Discovery Playhouse exhibit to be legacy of 3-year-old who died unexpectedly

Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Levi Collom plays in the Kim's Secret Water Garden exhibit at the Discovery Playhouse in Cape Girardeau. The Benton, Mo., preschooler died of unknown causes March 18 at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis. (Submitted photo)

SIKESTON, Mo. -- Preschooler Levi Collom loved superheroes, often referring to them as "superpowers" to his parents.

"He was of that age where superheroes were the big thing," said his father, Glenn Collom of Benton, Mo., adding Levi and his older sister, Victoria, would play together with superheroes often.

But Levi, who died March 18 of unknown causes, seemingly had superpowers of his own.

Levi was the grandson of Steve Mosley, a longtime teacher at Notre Dame Regional High School in Cape Girardeau, and Viney Mosley, the director of the Cape Girardeau River Heritage Museum.

"It's amazing to me the number of lives that Levi -- in his short, little time -- had touched," Viney Mosley said.

Former caregivers, current preschool teachers, church members, friends and community members who paid their respects at Levi's funeral all had their own Levi stories to share, she said.

"He was just the sweetest little boy," paternal grandmother Bobbi Collom of Sikeston said. " ... He didn't use you. He would ask for things. He didn't throw a fit if he didn't get what he asked for. He would just say, 'OK.' But that was just the kind of child he was."

Now his family is planning to share their superhero with the rest of Southeast Missouri through an outdoor exhibit at one of Levi's favorite places to visit, the Discovery Playhouse in Cape Girardeau. "We want children to spend time together with their families, having fun like we used to do," Bobbi Collom said.

"The reason we picked the Discovery Playhouse was because when this tragedy happened, my mom had suggested having people make a memorial donation to the Discovery Playhouse because he liked to go there when he was at MiMi's house," recalled Ellen "Ellie" Collom, Levi's mother.

"The exhibit would be things all of our family have done with Levi, and his favorite things," she said.

In addition to superheroes, especially Spider-Man and Batman, Levi loved riding his John Deere Gator, jumping on the trampoline, reading books and watching the Power Rangers on TV.

But the exhibit is not just about him, Levi's mother said.

"It's what he and his sister would do together and what he and his daddy would do and what we would all do as a family together," Ellie Collom said, adding that Levi liked playing with his sister and camping with his family at Van Buren, Mo.

The cost to start the project is estimated at $100,000. Collom family friend Gina Crabtree of Jackson suggested they conduct a fundraiser for the project.

"After Levi passed, Ellie was frozen and couldn't move," Crabtree said. "I spent some weeks with the family afterward."

Crabtree, whose own mother lost a child, said she could remember her mother afterward not wanting to get out of bed.

"She was totally disconnected," Crabtree said. "I was trying to think of something that would help Ellie heal."

Crabtree recalled talking one night with her friend and also Collom family friend, Phil Brinson, who is the owner of Jeremiah's Restaurant and Lounge in Sikeston.

"He and I got to talking about his bar going on its 20th anniversary and thought we could combine this event for Levi," Crabtree said, adding Brinson offered the restaurant's patio for the fundraiser.

Set to begin at 6 p.m. Friday, the "Help Levi's Legacy Live On" fundraiser will take place under tents on the east side of Jeremiah's in Sikeston.

"When you're going through a tragedy like this, you don't have the time to sit and think about what needs to happen," Ellie Collom said. "So if it wasn't for our friends who are involved in doing this, this wouldn't be where it is."

Levi's family will announce details about the exhibit during the fundraiser and a concept drawing of the exhibit is slated to be unveiled.

"When they make a memorial exhibit, they are actually able to embed things that would mean things to us as a family. The kids coming to the exhibit may not actually know what those things mean to us," Ellie Collom said.

Levi's older sister is also going to work with the exhibit's artist.

"It would be an additional chance for children to play and have fun with their families and raise their children's spirit and keep Levi's spirit alive," Viney Mosley said of the exhibit.

The goal is for construction to begin in spring 2013.

"This is not a one-time deal," Collom said of the fundraiser. "You can add on to the exhibit, and it can come in several different phases."

The exhibit will have to be maintained, too.

Music, food, beverages, a silent auction, door prizes, raffle tickets and other entertainment are planned for the event, which requires a $15 cover charge.

Collom said 100 percent of the fundraiser's profits will go toward the exhibit, and all donations are tax-deductible.

Planning for the exhibit and upcoming fundraiser have helped the Collom family with the grieving process, Collom said. The exhibit will keep the preschooler's memory alive and provide a way for other children and their families to spend time together doing things he loved.

"When a child like Levi passes, my immediate thought was: 'If I'd known that, I probably wouldn't have worked [a full-time job],'" Ellie Collom said. "But then I realized ... Levi had a job, too, and his job was to share his spirit and his joy and his love with other people."

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