The garden

Family, community create memorial garden at Monon Trail Elementary School for Jacob McConahay

Jacob McConahay was a second grade student at Monon Trail Elementary School when his life was cut tragically short at the age of seven because of cancer on Aug. 31, 2011.

“He was an unbelievable kid who was full of compassion and love for others,” said Monon Trail Principal Mike Hall.

While Jake is not longer inside the classroom, his spirit lives on at 19400 Tomlinson Rd., Westfield, as his family and community recently completed The Garden, a memorial for the inspirational boy at the school.

“Jake was very close to all of the students in his class,” said his mother, Tosha McConahay. “We hope this is used as part of their science labs or for reading – kids grow up with this.”

Hall said the family wanted to start a memorial garden on an open space behind the school where students could learn, play and hang out.

“He just enjoyed playing out there at recess. He was a big fan of butterflies,” he said, adding the garden includes hummingbird feeders and butterfly bushes.

Last fall, the McConahays started the garden by installing a paver patio and large flower box. The area was dedicated to Jake earlier this year.

“They were doing it all on their own time and money,” Hall said.

Hall and the McConahays worked together to secure donations from several local businesses including Wesley Landscaping, Brehob Nursery, Hittle Landscaping, Sodexo, Litchfield Landscaping and Salsbury Brothers Landscaping.

“That really got the ball rolling,” said Hall. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”

The Garden was also selected by Northview Christian Church as one of its community service projects, which included a $500 donation and a group of volunteers Oct. 13.

“What we thought was going to be a three to five year project was done in one day,” said Hall. “It’s pretty amazing.”

“It all came together in one year. A lot of people in the community stepped up to help,” Tosha added.
Since the project was completed, Hall said students have “flocked to it.”

“It’s a great spot. Kids love to be out there and it’s a neat experience to see them out there,” he said.

Hall said The Garden is located directly outside of the school’s science lab and will be a great outdoor learning center.

“They can go out and do whatever the teachers feel is appropriate,” he said. “It’ll be a lot of fun to see what they do this spring.”

The Gardens will serve as reminder of Jake’s caring nature – which can still be found cuddled in the arms of hundreds of thousands of children across the world.

Jake began treatment at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health in October 2010 for alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that attacks the soft tissue and organs. During his visits, he found comfort in a dinosaur Pillow Pet named Rexi he received from his aunt.

“I asked him simply, ‘What do you think kids need at Riley that they don’t get at Riley?’” said Tosha.

“He said that kids need Pillow Pets because there are times that they don’t feel good, the doctors don’t always tell them good news and it’s scary.”

Jake set a goal to collect 1,000 plush toys for kids at Riley. Monon Trail, Northview Christian Church, local Applebee’s restaurants and the Westfield community got involved and Pillow Pets began popping up everywhere. Soon Jake’s goal was left in the dust.

“I want to collect millions of Pillow Pets. I think that is my goal,” Jake told Current in Westfield in March 2011.

Tosha said Jake was also sensitive to the needs of patients’ siblings, like his own sister, Gracie, and brother, Jonathan.

“Siblings get left out a lot,” she said. “It was important to us that if a sibling was there that day they could have one. You could see them in the hallway after receiving one and they would be so excited.”

Pillow Pets continue to brighten the hospital beds of children as far away as South Africa.

“To this date there have been over 525,000 Pillow Pets donated to children across the United States,” Hall commented.

The Pillow Pet Company was so moved by Jake’s compassion for others that they presented him with a unique, one-of-a-kind dragon he named Night Fury. The company also created a specific Pillow Pet for Jake – a St. Bernard called Jake’s Buddy that was designed after his own dog, J.J. (Jake Jr.). On the tag of the Pillow Pet is a cartoon drawing of Jake holding J.J.

“He told us that he wanted every hurting child to have a Pillow Pet across the world,” said Tosha. “He left a legacy at the age of seven most of us won’t in our whole lifetime.”