Living in Tucson, you’ll find a special gem in Brandi Fenton Memorial Park, tucked away on the south end of the Foothills. But for many in our community, it’s more than just a special spot to spend an afternoon in town.

On a personal note, I went to Orange Grove Middle School with Brandi Fenton, and will forever remember the morning, 20 years ago, one of our friends called me to tell me Brandi had been killed in a car crash.

But now, her legacy and smile are living on.

“We remember her often,” her mom, April Fenton told me. “She was a big part of our lives. She was our child.”

It’s hard not to smile at Brandi Fenton Park. It’s beautiful, and for all of us who remember Brandi, it’s her beautiful smile that stands out.

“She was just happy,” remembered April. “I don’t think I ever saw Brandi not happy. Every morning she’d wake up happy. She was just an amazing child. Really a wonderful girl.”

April and Jon Fenton’s daughter was just 13 when she died. Brandi was a tennis player, a big sister to Garrett and Cassidy, and a true friend to everyone she meant, as made evident by the sign at the park that reads “Brandi’s Peeps,” with our names on a mosaic below.

“I think the thing I’ll always remember is that she had so many friends,” Jon Fenton said. “She was like best friends to everyone. And one story I remember, she had a party and we said you’ve got to limit it to like 20 people, because it was in the summer. And next thing you know, there was about 60 people, and she said ‘Dad, I should not exclude anyone. These are all my friends.’ And so that’s how Brandi was. Everyone kind of loved her. She was best friends with everyone.”

Brandi loved butterflies, and since her death her parents have looked to them as a sign of her presence. They’ve been visited by butterflies on trips across the country, where you’d never expect to see one. There’s also a big butterfly garden at the park, where they often stop by.

“You wish they were here,” April said, thinking of what would have become of her daughter. “Would she be married, would she have had children? She wanted to be a lawyer, and none of those dreams ever got fulfilled. So it was a sad loss, a big loss.”

In the tragedy no parent should have to go through, Brandi’s parents found light in creating this place where people could come together to be happy, just like Brandi always was.

“It’s the only positive, the park, because it was the only thing that kept me going really,” Jon explained. “Because the community, when you see people playing, it’s been a very positive thing for the community. The only good thing that came out of it, was the park.”

Now, the park the Fentons worked so hard to bring to fruition, has become a wonderful place for so many people to be able to share that smile.

“One of the main features is the splash park,” Jon said. “Everything’s free and open to the public. So it’s a splash park that is packed all summer long. We got covered basketball courts, which obviously in Arizona being covered is important. There’s two different dog parks for small and medium dogs. There are several soccer fields that are lighted. Another unique feature is the equestrian park, which is used quite a bit, and there are common areas. There’s also the memorial garden here, where people come and remember their loved ones.”

That memorial garden even features their beloved family dog, Gonzo, carrying on memories for so many, as does their tree of life mosaic, which recognizes organ donors, just like Brandi became.

Now, Jon visits the park with their dog every day.

“I just feel very at peace here,” he said. “It’s is a great park and coming out here on Saturday, and seeing everything being used, is always a wonderful thing.”

“We love that,” April explained. “We love driving by when you see it, whether it’s evening and the lights are on under the basketball courts, or you see kids playing, or adults playing on the soccer fields during the weekends, it’s just wonderful. It really is beautiful. Makes you happy.”

Now, Brandi Fenton Memorial Park is growing, as the Fentons work to bring in a collection of dozens of angel themed sculptures.

“Our goal is to keep the park growing and moving forward and improving,” Jon said, adding that they have plans to continue funding the park so it can stay up and running for decades to come, and future generations to enjoy.

For the Fentons, seeing the park grow up, has in a way become their version of seeing Brandi grow up, in the way she never got to.

It’s all part of their dream, of keeping Brandi’s smile and legacy alive.