PORTLAND — Jacob Thompson not only loved Christmas and penguins, he also loved the playground on the Eastern Prom.
That’s why this spring the Munjoy Hill Fire Station and the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization have joined efforts to raise money for a memorial bench in his name near the playground, a place the offers wide vistas of Casco Bay.
Thompson, 9, died from stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor, last fall after inspiring people both locally and around the world to send Christmas cards to him at the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital, according to the Portland Press Herald.
Although Thompson and his family lived in Saco, he would often beg his father to bring him to the “playground by the water,” according to a Facebook post, which was read by Craig Voisine, a firefighter assigned to Ladder 1 at the Munjoy Hill station.
After learning how special the playground was to Thompson and how it was the wish of the boy’s father to “set up a bench in the area to continue Jacob’s legacy,” Voisine leaped into action.
“Jacob left an indelible mark on my own mind as I followed (his) story,” Jay Norris, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization, said this week. So when the local fire station “reached out for help in raising money to purchase a park bench in Jacob’s name, we had no choice but to help. Who could say no to that?”
“The Munjoy Hill Fire Station guys are constantly looking to help out people in the community, and not just on the Portland peninsula,” Norris said. “The neighborhood organization has a pretty solid list of folks to reach out to … (and we) love coordinating with our fire station. That’s (just) what neighbors do.”
“We are very pleased and fortunate to have the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization co-sponsor this project with us,” Voisine said. “Jay has been extremely helpful in getting the word out (and) he also designed the poster that we’ve been using in our social media posts.”
“It’s very humbling to know that the community supports us,” Voisine added. “People have been very generous toward helping us achieve our fundraising goal.” The GoFundMe page reports that $915 has been raised so far, but Norris said the actual total is closer to $1,000.
He said the memorial bench would be placed “at or very near the Eastern Promenade playground, overlooking the ocean. With the playground and all the other happy things that happen on the Prom, we think it’s a great way to honor a special little boy.”
Norris said any amount raised over the cost of the bench would be “given to the family. No doubt there remain some significant expenses from Jacob’s treatment.”
Voisine said putting a bench near the playground made perfect sense after it became “obvious that (it) was a special place for Jacob and his father. We (also) thought that since the playground is located in the very neighborhood we help protect, we should try to raise the money to purchase the bench and honor Jacob.”
Voisine said he focused on raising enough money for a memorial bench and not a piece of playground equipment, for instance, after reading the Facebook post that mentioned it was the dream of Thompson’s father to place a bench in his son’s name there.
While the fundraising is still ongoing, Voisine said it would be impossible to determine when the bench would actually be put up. “Right now we have no date planned,” he said. “Our first priority is to raise the needed funds so that we can order the bench and plaque.”
Voisine said “the style of bench is referred to as the ‘World’s Fair’ and it will look similar to the ones that already line the sidewalk on the Eastern Prom. The memorial bench also comes with a plaque that will have Jacob’s name on it and a message that will be chosen by his father.”
A bench honoring the memory of Jacob Thompson, a Maine boy who died of a rare form of cancer, will be placed at the playground on Portland’s Eastern Prom.
Jacob Thompson was able to get up close and personal with an African penguin from the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut before he died.