Justin Thomas Park in Rutland gets revamped

Published: Aug. 6, 2023 at 11:35 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - A Rutland park got a facelift as community members came together to renovate the greenspace and remember who it honors.

“It’s just wonderful to have a place where children can come and be safe. Have fun, and just be kids,” said Dianne Roy of Rutland.

Roy has lived in Rutland since 1978, and she’s always known the Justin Thomas Memorial Park as a fun place for families and kids in the neighborhood.

She has watched her own nieces and nephews play at the park, and when she heard it was being renovated, she was completely overjoyed.

“My brother came down here with his two children, and they had never seen anything like this. So, we walked down here to the park, so it’s meant a lot to me since 1978. I didn’t know Justin when he was a little boy, but when I lived here. I knew when he died, and it just crushed me,” said Roy.

The Justin Thomas Memorial Park is dedicated to Justin Thomas who died at the age of 2 from bacterial meningitis in 1997 while on a family vacation. After the vacation, the family wanted to turn their sorrow into joy as the city and community worked with them to build a new park in their son’s name.

Now, 25 years later, the park has been renovated. Justin’s family says it’s been a long time coming.

“Over the last 25 years, this park has gained so many fans. The kids and the families, generation after generation. So, we are very pleased, we’re just happy to be able to open this today,” said Roy Thomas, Justin’s father.

The family says many community members and city officials who helped put the park together originally came back for the second time to enhance the park. They improved the landscape, the play structure, the swings, and what they are calling the Walkway of Love.

The family, with the help of community support, raised more than $100,000 for the renovations. Community members who know Justin’s story came out to support the reopening and Justin’s sister, who was just 4 at the time of his death, says this moment is very special to her.

“Now, 25 years later, obviously I am older. So being able to be a part of this big day, but different. Being able to be involved in the process of building the park. Picking out the structure, you know what we want, just means so much to me,” said Kayla Thomas, Justin’s sister.

Kids who play in Justin’s Park say they love it.

“It’s very cool, it has a lot of stuff to play on. I really like it because I get to make new friends,” said London Etcheson.