MAHOMET — A 1994 tragedy in this community still brings tears to those who knew Tim Brooks and Steve Warfel, yet the park that bears their names has, and will, for decades upon decades mean joy to the children of Mahomet.
Both had young children when they died in an accident, and it seems fitting that their legacy is one of play and laughter for generations of youth in the village.
Brooks-Warfel Park, located at Elm and Dunbar streets just south of downtown Mahomet and a stone’s throw southwest of the village administration building, is a tribute to these two city employees who died when a trench dug for a sewer line collapsed on them.
For Cheryl Sproul, longtime Mahomet village clerk, memories of that tragic Sept. 22, 1994, still bring tears.
“I’d forgotten that this is 25 years,” Sproul said. “I just can’t believe it’s been 25 years already. It’s still real fresh.
“It was hard. They were good guys. They both had little kids.”
She said Brooks had been on the village staff for 10 years and was in charge of water services.
“I had worked with him for five. (He was) kind of like a little brother,” the clerk said of Brooks, who was 36 when he died.
Warfel, who died at age 34, was newer to Mahomet and served as transportation superintendent.
“He hadn’t been here very long,” Sproul said. “He was kind of new to the family, but he was fitting right in.”
“They were working together on a job. They were taking (a sewer trench) across the road, and it collapsed,” Sproul said. Another village employee, Dave Workman, came by after the collapse, she recalled, and tried to save the pair.
“He went in the hole trying to get them out,” she said. “So he was injured as well. But he survived.”
The aging playground equipment has been replaced or revamped, the park infrastructure has gotten a face-lift, and it all just reopened this week. In fact, children were playing there Tuesday morning as Sproul and Dan Waldinger, director of Mahomet’s Parks and Recreation Department, talked about the sprucing up of Brooks-Warfel Park.
“We’re going to install a sign ... that’s going to kind of explain and remember them and tell their story a little bit,” Waldinger said of the park’s namesakes.
Since the park is beside the city water plant, signage will reference Mahomet’s water supply, too.
“Also, part of that sign will talk about where your water comes from and tie in the aquifer and the water plant,” he said.
More mulch will be added, Waldinger noted, but already installed is a new play structure that includes three slides and a rock climber. A new perimeter pathway is in place, and a “parent and me” swing is available. He said a merry-go-round was part of the park for years, and the new design includes a modern style merry-go-round, too.
In addition, paved parking and hardscapes make the park more accessible.
The focus of play at Brooks-Warfel Park is for 2- to 5-year-old children. New benches are on the way, as are new trash cans and additional signage. The Lions pavilion nearby may get some sprucing up in months to come, Waldinger said.
“We’re really pleased with how it came out,” he said.
He praised the numerous volunteers who helped make the improvements at the park a reality. Brothers Ryan and Rusty Heiser, Kevin Pagel, the entire Parks and Rec staff, Cameron Wygant and others are among those who assisted.
“It really was a total team effort,” Waldinger said. “We’re excited that it’s open. It’s heavily used.”
Midstate Excavation did some of the hardscapes, and drainage issues were addressed.
Young Ezra, 4, and Rowan, 2, played at the park Tuesday morning with their dad, Chris Wood. They’re part of one of many Mahomet families that regularly use the park.
“I like it,” Ezra said as he moved from one playground piece to another.
Sproul watched the two boys play for a minute.
“I love it — the one little guy’s got his shoes on, the other one’s going barefoot,” she said with a laugh.
It’s all fitting that Brooks and Warfel have their names forever connected with the joys of children.
“They would have loved this park,” Sproul said.