MORRIS – Those who knew 3-year-old Lunden Chappell say she was full of energy, constantly moving and laughing, and brought joy to her classmates, teachers and loved ones.
Last May, Lunden’s family received the shock of their life when the Wilmington girl was found accidentally drowned in a pond.
“She was a very, very, smart little girl and a lot of fun,” remembered Beth Chappell, Lunden’s aunt.
To honor Lunden’s memory, the Chappell family started the Lunden Chappell Memorial Fund, raising money for local families in need and the Reed-Custer Primary School, where Lunden was enrolled in a special education preschool program.
The first-ever fundraiser for the memorial fund is scheduled for Saturday in Coal City.
The event will feature family entertainment from nationally known juggler Andy Head, as well as a silent auction and raffle.
“This benefit is not raising money for the family. That’s not what this is for. It’s to benefit [Lunden’s] school, which helped her so much, and it’s for local families in the area that have needs,” Chappell said. “Specifically families that might have children who are ill, children with special needs or maybe a family who has had a child pass away.”
Chappell said the preschool program at Reed-Custer was of great help to Lunden, who was diagnosed as developmentally disabled.
According to her teacher Mary Korthauer, Lunden loved spending time with her classmates.
“She had a really, really good support group, and her family has been the same thing for us in the classroom,” Korthauer said. “So it doesn’t surprise me that the first thing they thought to do was something for the school. That’s just the kind of people they are.”
At school, Lunden fell in love with the children’s book character Pete the Cat, featured in several books. Lunden’s Pete the Cat doll was so beloved that it made it into her official school photo.
“She always had Pete the Cat with her. Just always,” Chappell said.
For Saturday’s auction, the family secured signed copies of Pete the Cat, sent directly from the book’s author and illustrator, who were moved by the Chappells’ story.
Chappell said the family is working to bring the author, Eric Litwin, to the area next spring, possibly for next year’s memorial benefit.
“The plan is to get enough money coming in here that we can turn it into a permanent foundation. We want it to be a not-for-profit organization,” she said.
Local businesses showed an outpouring of support once the family began organizing the benefit fundraiser. Chappell said the family did not solicit many of the businesses that donated to the event. Many heard about it and wanted to help.
A few large ticket items – including Chicago White Sox tickets and passes to Brookfield Zoo – as well as several smaller items will be raffled or auctioned off.
Chappell said attendees do not need to purchase tickets to participate in the raffle and auction.
Tickets are required for those who wish to attend the Andy Head juggling performance, which includes a catered dinner. Tickets are $13 for adults older than age 13 and $5 for children between the ages of 5 and 12 years old. Children younger than age 5 are free.
IF YOU GO
What: Lunden Chappell Memorial Fund benefit show and auction
Where: Ignite Christian Church at 301 S. Broadway St., Coal City
When: 6 p.m. Saturday
Cost: Age 13 and over $13; children age 5 to 12, $5; children younger than 5, free
For information about the benefit or how to donate, visit Lundenchappell.com