The Warm Remembrance Family Play Area at Redwood Park will become a reality this fall, thanks to donations from the community.
The play area will be a memorial to John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, two 18-year-old sweethearts who were kidnapped and murdered in 1980. The UC Davis freshmen had both worked for the city of Davis’ parks department.
With $34,000 in the bank so far, an additional $30,000 from the city’s playground replacement fund and $10,000 in disability access grant money, the new playground will be built this summer with a dedication ceremony slated for sometime this fall, said Bob Bowen, Davis’ public relations manager.
In total, the project needs $75,000, and the Yolo Community Foundation has teamed up with the project’s steering committee to make it happen. The committee includes Bowen, Mayor Pro Tem Dan Wolk and Beth Gabor, public information officer for Yolo County and a cousin of Riggins.
“It’s kind of a model for this kind of cooperation,” Bowen said.
The memorial project will replace an existing play area in Redwood Park south of César Chávez Elementary School off Anderson Road. The original playground was built in 1963 and, according to a city staff report, it’s showing its age.
“The heavily used structure has various broken components and parts of it have been boarded up with plywood,” the report reads.
The playground was chosen for the memorial because Riggins used to play there as a child and Gonsalves worked there as a city recreation leader.
The City Council and the Parks and Recreation Commission approved conceptual plans for the play area last year, and the commission recently approved a revised conceptual plan in May. The city has a website with information about the project and ways to donate at http://city-managers-office.cityofdavis.org/warm-remembrance-project.
Gabor said additional money donated toward the project would bear fruit.
“While we formally closed the fundraising period, any further donations will go toward more amenities at the park,” she said.
Donors can click on a donation button at the website or inquire at [email protected]
“I’m thrilled it was just over year ago that we had this idea,” Gabor said, adding that it was friends and family of the victims who donated first, followed by people who were moved by the story.
A public unveiling of the conceptual plan on June 7 brought people to the playground.
“It was really fun to have people come out and give their input,” Gabor said, adding that neighbors, kids and adults stopped by. “I think everyone’s pretty excited about it.”
Particularly exciting for the group is the planned miniature version of the old concrete egg-like play structure, now to be built 4 feet high. Riggins and Gabor used to play in the old egg, which was removed more than 30 years ago, Bowen said, because it was unsafe.
Gabor said the new, smaller, safer egg represents new beginnings and new life.
“Those of us who fondly remember the egg are excited,” she said.
Riggins and Gonsalves were both UCD freshmen when they were kidnapped from Davis on the night of Dec. 20, 1980. The pair had been ushering at a performance of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker” at the Veterans’ Memorial Theater and were kidnapped in North Davis as they prepared to attend Sabrina’s sister’s birthday party. Their bodies were found two days later in Sacramento County.
Their killer, Richard Joseph Hirschfield, was arrested in 2004 after being linked to the crime through DNA evidence. He was convicted of the murders in 2012 and was sentenced to death last January.
The new play area will include an apparatus for children, benches, shade trees and a cushioned surface that allows wheelchairs to roll on it. Importantly, the play area will include an interpretive sign, similar to the Julie Partansky Garden & Pond sign, according to the staff report.
The text will speak to the “positive, life-affirming influence that John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves had on local children” and the importance of family-oriented Davis parks facilities and programs, the report said.
Bowen, who worked with Riggins and Gonsalves, said he hopes the effort to gather up the money and get the community behind the park project will pay off in smiles.
“If we can get kids there laughing and smiling, then this will be worth it,” he said.
— Reach Dave Ryan at [email protected] or 530-747-8057. Follow him on Twitter at @davewritesnews