Ferndale parents are raising funds to honor daughter with playground

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published December 9, 2015

 Susan and Russ White stand in the area where a new play structure will be built in memory of their daughter. The family is raising $25,000 to pay for the memorial structure.

Susan and Russ White stand in the area where a new play structure will be built in memory of their daughter. The family is raising $25,000 to pay for the memorial structure.

Photo by Donna Agusti


FERNDALE — From time to time, Susan White still heads to Harding Park in her Ferndale neighborhood to sit on one of the swings. The swings, White said, were a favorite spot for her and her daughter, Kayla White, whenever they had something to talk about.

Often the conversation between White and her daughter moved to the fact that Harding Park no longer had a play structure. Kayla White grew up in the neighborhood and remembered playing on the old wooden structure, Susan White said, and Kayla White wanted other neighborhood kids to have the same enjoyment she did.

Kayla White, however, wasn’t able to see a new play structure constructed. On Nov. 11, 2014, Kayla White, who was eight months pregnant, was killed in a car crash in Southfield.

“We grew up in this neighborhood her whole life and have stayed here for 27 years now, and we love this very close-knit community, and everybody looks out for each other, as our kids grew up together,” Susan White said. “We literally spent years at (Harding Park). Not days or weeks, but years, because it was such an awesome park. We would meet there after school, and we were very fortunate to be part of that.”

During the Sept. 14 Ferndale City Council meeting, the council approved a proposal from the White family to donate a play structure to be built in Harding Park in their daughter’s memory. The proposed playground, to be named the Kayla White Memorial Playground, will cost between $20,000 and $25,000 for construction and installation.

The White family is now raising the money needed to pay for the play structure. As of Dec. 4, their GoFundMe page had raised nearly $14,000.

Getting a play structure back into Harding Park was such a passion for Kayla White that Susan White and her husband, Russ White, wanted to make that happen in her memory.

“Because she grew up there, it bothered her that there was not a play structure anymore for the kids,” Susan White said. “We talked about it a week before her death, that when the baby was born, maybe we would go to the city to get something going for a play structure in the park. So we knew exactly what we had to do to honor that memory.”

Traffic had slowed around 5 p.m. Nov. 11, 2014, on the northbound Lodge Freeway near Telegraph Road when the driver of a 2002 Cadillac failed to stop and crashed into Kayla White’s 2003 Jeep Liberty. Police said at the time of the crash that the driver of the Cadillac was not paying attention.

Police determined that the impact of the crash caused the Jeep to turn over and catch fire. Kayla White, 23, was killed in the crash.

The driver of the Cadillac was sentenced in May to 10 days in jail and 24 months of probation.

Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter said the old play structure at Harding Park was deemed unsafe and had to be taken down in 2014. To have the White family donate a new play structure is a great gift, he said, and the city is honored to name it in memory of Kayla White.

“Her parents approached us about doing something in that park because she grew up near there and that park was very special to her,” he said. “We thought it was a wonderful way to honor her memory and help improve our parks. Their generous gift is a huge benefit to all the toddlers, in particular, that can use a play structure like that.”

The proposed play structure will include two slides, several climbing components and monkey bars, as designed by GameTime. The most unusual aspect will be a free-standing, glass-fiber polymer penguin standing about 2 feet tall and a foot wide that kids can play on and around.

Penguins, Susan White said, were a big part of her daughter’s life and something she always lit up around.

“Her nickname in soccer was ‘Penguin’ because she had a slight limp, and she said she always walked like a penguin,” White said. “The first time we went to the zoo, she squealed at the penguins, and she had about 150 stuffed penguins. We were very adamant at a penguin being incorporated, as it was the penguin was a go or no play structure. I don’t think (the city) knew how much she was obsessed with penguins.”

White said they are hoping to have the full $25,000 raised by March so that they can order the play structure and get it installed as soon as possible. She added that they will be holding a dinner and silent auction in February, although a specific date and location have not yet been determined.

More than 130 people have already donated to the fundraising efforts, something White said is a blessing.

“It is just amazing and phenomenal the support we have, and I think everybody is excited about it. We couldn’t have done it without everybody,” she said.

To donate to the Kayla White Memorial Playground fundraising efforts, visit www.gofundme.com/aj6ta9bw.