In the decade after the deaths of John Riggins and Sabrina Gonsalves, residents of Davis and beyond honored their memories at the Warm Remembrance Festival, an annual event where families gathered at Central Park to enjoy games, music, even a circus act where kids were the stars of the show.
The festival came to an end in the early 1990s. Later, the city erected a waterslide at Community Pool in the couple’s names, but it eventually had to be removed for liability reasons.
Though other tributes to John and Sabrina remain — a tree at the UC Davis Arboretum, a baseball field fence at Davis High School and a footbridge in the Mendocino County redwoods, for example — within the city proper “there wasn’t really anything physical, other than memories and news stories, for the general public to remember them by,” said Bob Bowen, a longtime city employee who was one of the last people to see the couple alive on the night of Dec. 20, 1980, after they ushered a performance of the “Davis Children’s Nutcracker.”
“What can you do to say they’re not forgotten, to keep their memory alive?” Bowen said.
For the last few months, Bowen has worked with Davis City Councilman Dan Wolk and Beth Gabor, Yolo County’s public information officer and a cousin of Riggins, on a plan to raise money for a new memorial that the entire community can enjoy.
The vision is to “refresh” one of the city’s parks — perhaps Redwood Park in West Davis, where John spent many of his childhood days and where Sabrina once worked as a playground leader — with new, fully accessible playground equipment, artwork, picnic tables and a sign with information about the couple’s contributions to Davis and its children.
It’s tentative name: the Warm Remembrance Family Play Area.
The goal is to fund the entire project with donations, monetary as well as labor, Bowen said. A community-based group would be assembled to lead the effort, and input from the Riggins and Gonsalves families will be key as well.
“It’s something that we in Davis can do for them, something positive and constructive for them to look forward to,” Bowen said. “We want to make it a fun, scenic and family-oriented space.”
The memorial should be “life-affirming and positive, and not dwell on the negative,” Wolk added. The plan would require City Council approval, but Wolk said his colleagues have been receptive to the idea.
Only three years old in 1980, Wolk never knew John and Sabrina, but he grew up just a block away from Riggins’ childhood home and later followed in their footsteps as a camp counselor for the city’s parks department.
“I feel like they’ve been a part of my life,” Wolk said. Their story “has a lot of meaning to me personally, and I feel a real strong desire to try to do something like this.”
The Riggins and Gonsalves families say they’re thrilled with the idea.
“I’m really excited about it,” said Andrea Gonsalves Rosenstein, Sabrina’s sister. “My big feeling is having something practical that kids could play with, something that would help families, because that’s what Sabrina would have wanted.”
“Anything that would prolong their memory, we’d be for,” added Dick Riggins, John’s father.
Bowen said he hopes to have the project, if approved, completed within the next year. Anyone interested in contributing toward the effort may email [email protected] or call 530-756-8119 for more information. Plans for a website also are in the works.
— Reach Lauren Keene at [email protected] or 530-747-8048. Follow her on Twitter @laurenkeene