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In memoriam, forever Calder's playground: Iowa City Council asked to honor boy who died of cancer

Brianna Wills talks with her son, Calder, on March 10, 2017, at their home in Iowa City. Calder died later that year of complications from cancer treatment. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Brianna Wills talks with her son, Calder, on March 10, 2017, at their home in Iowa City. Calder died later that year of complications from cancer treatment. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The neighborhood park where Calder Wills used to play, before a community found itself clinging to hope he would overcome cancer and then grieving when ultimately he could not, may carry on the spirit of the “Calder Strong” movement that galvanized supporters of the little boy.

On Tuesday, the Iowa City Council is scheduled to discuss a resolution renaming Hickory Trail Park in his honor. The request came from his parents, Brian and Brianna Wills, who also have committed thousands from a memorial fund to city parks.

“We just thought, as we considered ways to memorialize Calder, we felt that was a great way to support the city and the park and at the same time, memorialize him,” Brianna Wills said.

The small park, at 2831 Hickory Trail, where Calder’ siblings still play, is just a few houses down from the Wills home.

“That’s the park that our son played in a lot,” Brianna Wills said.

Calder was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a blood cancer, in February 2016. In early 2017, he underwent a stem cell transplant in a Minnesota hospital. But later that year, on Nov. 4, he died at age 12 after an inflammation in his lungs.

Throughout Calder’s treatment, family, friends, neighbors and the larger community rallied behind the message of support dubbed “Calder Strong.”

That support continued after his death, and the family agreed to give memorial donations — about $16,000 — to the Iowa City Park Foundation to be used for children’s play areas, city documents show. Those funds will be used for the Nature Play Area at Riverfront Crossings Park.

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The city staff recommends approval of the renaming, saying it also would eliminate some confusion since Hickory Trail Park is located near Hickory Hill Park.

“Changing the name to Calder Park will make it a more distinctive name with meaning and connection to the surrounding neighborhood,” a staff memo stated.

Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department naming policy requires that half a project’s cost be donated and that there be a two-year waiting period before a memorial naming occurs.

The Wills’ family donation of $16,000 amounts to half the cost of the small playground equipment and a shelter installed in 2014 at Hickory Trail Park, according to city documents.

The Wills family has requested — and the city Parks Commission has approved — that the two-year waiting period for renaming a park be waived. The commission noted strong support from neighbors.

If approved by the council, an entrance sign and smaller plaque will be placed at the park.

The council meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Iowa City Hall, 410 E. Washington St.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com

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