Photo by Joe Boyle
Nancy Donovan, mother of Meg Donovan Moonan, who died from melanoma in 2102, cuts the ribbon for a shade structure built over a sandbox to protect children from the sun at Klein Park in Evergreen Park. She is joined during the ribbon-cutting ceremonies by Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton.
Nancy Donovan had an idea after watching the participants cross the finish line of the March4Meg’s 5K Run and Walk that has become an annual tradition at Klein Park, affectionately known as Circle Park, in Evergreen Park.
Donovan decided then that she would like to have a shade structure constructed to protect children from the danger of overexposure to the sun. She had only one location in mind and that was Klein Park, 9700 S. Homan Ave. Her daughter, Meg Donovan Moonan, lived across the street from the park and this is also where her children still live and play.
Meg Donovan Moonan died of complications from melanoma on March 30, 2012. Family and friends of Meg vowed to do what she would have – fight back to halt others from spending too much time in the sun.
During her 19-month battle battle, Meg endured two surgeries, numerous experimental chemotherapy treatments and 16 hospital stays. Nancy Donovan said that Meg battled the disease with quiet resolve that was an inspiration to everyone who knew her. Meg’s focus was on the family and the hope that one day she would live to see a cure.
One of four siblings who grew up in Chicago’s Wrightwood neighborhood, Meg attended St. Thomas More School and Maria High School. She and her twin sister, Maureen, were both fair skinned so their mother overcompensated with long-sleeve shirts and pants in the warmest of weather. But Meg still contracted the deadliest of cancers. She is survived by her husband, Ken Moonan, and their four children.
Though the local parish rallied around the family, Nancy Donovan sensed they were wilting under the weight of grief and longing.
“We had to do something bold because everyone was do depressed and heading nowhere,” Nancy Donovan said.
With the aid of her daughters, Maureen Kovac and Mary Pat McGeehan; niece, Meredith McGuffage; and others, March4Meg was founded. Shortly after the first race, the money that was raised as earmarked for the Meg Moonan Endowment for Melanoma Research at Advocate Christ Medical Center. A check presentation of $30,000 was made based after the first event. The second year, a check for $60,000, was presented to Advocate Christ Medical Center.
Nancy Donovan’s idea of a shade structure had more meaning after another Evergreen Park resident, Lucy Barry, died in 2014 due to melanoma. Nancy Donovan was more determined than ever to accomplish her goal and make adults and children aware of the dangers of overexposure to the sun.
“It’s a deadly disease and we have so many Irish in Evergreen Park,” said Nancy Donovan. “Many of them are fair-skinned. There are other parks that could use a shelter, like Duffy Park. They don’t have many trees and it is so sunny there.”
The shade structure is about 550 square feet in coverage area and it shadows the entire sandbox portion of the Klein Park playground to protect children playing in the sand area in the far southwest corner of the park and playground. Nancy Donovan was advised by Kathy Figel to contact Wendy Schulenberg, a landscape architect with more than 35 years of experience.
“This is the first time I’ve located a sun shade structure over a sand play area,” said Schulenberg, a resident of Chicago’s Beverly neighborhood. “I don’t remember ever seeing it done on such a large scale before, so I think we are a bit ahead of the curve on being sensitive to sun protection in an area like this.”
“I’d like to think we’re taking a leadership position here in Evergreen Park in the commitment to creating a safe haven from the danger s of the sun’s strength,” said Evergreen Park Mayor Jim Sexton. “Much of the credit goes to Nancy Donovan for bringing us this concept and the support she got from the March4Meg committee and the Barry family.”
Dennis Duffy, the recreation director in Evergreen Park, led a series of meetings at park offices that completed Nancy Donovan’s vision with Schulenberg’s expertise. When Lucy Barry died, Donovan reached out her husband, Jim, and the five Barry sons, consoling them and welcoming them into the fold.
Now president of the March4Meg board, Jim Barry shared Donovan’s vision to provide research into a cure for melanoma. The unveiling of the shade structure and two memorial markers with accompanying photos of Meg Moonan Donovan and Lucy Barry were displayed on Oct. 21. Along with Nancy Donovan and her family, Jim Barry and his family were on hand. Sexton was in attendance along with state Rep. Kelly Burke (D-36th). The Rev. Jim Hyland, pastor of Holy Redeemer Parish, gave a blessing.
“”For me personally, this is a dream come true but it doesn’t happen without our own dream makers,” said Nancy Donovan. “In a short time Jim Barry and his son, Matt, have helped take our visions and make them reality. We can only hope this will lead to more shade structures and greater awareness.
“Meg would be so proud today,” added Nancy Donovan. “From the day she was diagnosed, she talked of building awareness and taking action. Despite her suffering, she was plotting ways to help others. She was determined to beat the monster – melanoma – and the next best thing would be helping others never get it.”
According to the American Cancer Society, melanoma is one fastest growing cancers in the U.S. and throughout the world. Every hour of the day someone dies from melanoma. Promoting awareness can save lives as melanoma is curable if detected early, with a greater than 90 percent survival rate.