Culver’s of Valparaiso was packed with young children and their parents enjoying fresh fries and creamy shakes on Tuesday afternoon. While Culvers is a popular lunch spot any day of the week, Tuesday was a special day for the restaurant and their clientele. Culver’s donated 10% of the day’s sales to the Valpo Parks Foundation to benefit the rebuild of beloved park ValPLAYso in memory of Kelli Cleary Longacre.
The push to raise money for ValPLAYso has been spearheaded by Longacre’s sister Cassi Such.
“We are very excited to be here at Culver’s for their giveback day in memory of my sister Kelli,” Such said. “Up to date, we have raised over $25,000 for the rebuild of ValPLAYso. This rebuild has really brought the community of Valpo together. It’s a testament to what my sister found most important in life: family, children, and laughter.”
One gets the sense that Kelli would have appreciated the children playing in Culver’s on Tuesday. The laughter, play, and custard covered smiling faces were the essence of young childhood.
Such has been working with Monica Flanagin Decker, who - in addition to being a board member of the Valpo Parks Foundation - was a close friend of Kelli’s growing up, to get the word out about ValPLAYso and Kelli’s importance to the community. Such and Decker recently went on air on WITW with radio host Frank Guzzo.
“I was most impressed with the way that Cassie and Monica really want to keep Kelli’s memory and her heart involved in the community,” said Guzzo, who is also a Pastor at Lifebridge Christian Church. “Raising donations for ValPLAYso is the type of project that she would be all about.”
Kelli died only 5 years ago from SCAD, a rare heart disease known for stealing away young lives without warning.
“Kelli was 33 and the absolute picture of health. She was vibrant, energetic and outgoing, and then suddenly, she’s gone,” Guzzo said. “I think that a lesson to every single one of us. Today is the day we have. Cassi is working to keep Kelli’s memory – her love of children and the community – as vibrant as when she was alive.”
This description of Kelli rings true to Jori Dusseau, Kelli’s cousin and college roommate at Purdue, where they both studied to become teachers.
“I really love that they’re raising money for ValPLAYSo because that’s the last place I ever saw Kelli alive and it was the first place I met her daughter Alli after she was born,” Dusseau said. “Alli was only three months old when Kelli passed away. Kelli really loved kids. It’s a special place for me in remembrance of Kelli. She was so proud of Valpo, of our community. Raising money for ValPLAYso is a great way to remember her.”
Community projects like the rebuild of ValPLAYso create a common goal that everyone can get behind and support. But these goals cannot be achieved without the financial support and generous giving of local businesses like Culver’s.
“ValPLAYso: The Next Generation is a project of the Valparaiso Parks Foundation. The project is funded through public and private partnerships and receives no tax-payer funding,” Decker said. “Having local businesses such as Culver’s, Engstroms, Sementos, and Hungry Inc. come forward and want to give back means everything to this project. This park cannot be built without companies stepping up and being a part of it all.”
“I’m very excited to take my grandkids to the park when it’s all done,” Guzzo said. ”The community is really getting behind this effort, and I think it’s extremely important.”
Such, Decker and Dusseau agree on the importance of building a living monument in Kelli’s honor.
“I’m truly so excited to be part of this rebuild and honor my sister by creating a lasting legacy for our family, other families, and most importantly her daughter,” Such said.