LAKE ASBURY - Clay County Commissioner Chairman Gayward Hendry was contrite when naming Ronnie Van Zant Park in Lake Asbury as one of his favorite parks in the county and added a bit more to add to the park’s allure when he introduced the Eli Warren Fitness Course to the park’s offerings in a somber ceremony Thursday morning.
“For those that don’t know Eli Warren, he was a wonderful child tragically lost too early in life by a car accident,” said Hendry in front of a crowd of family, county officials and church friends of the Warrens from Maranatha Church of Jacksonville. “His name is going to be said thousands of times in the years to come because of this, the Eli Warren Fitness Course at Ronnie Van Zant Park. From what I understand, he was loved people, physical activity and this facility is a fine tribute to him.”
The Eli Warren Fitness Course consists of a series of physical obstacles; jumps, climbs, balancing and strength made for young children-sized athletes to enjoy.
For the Warren family, the moment was a bit overwhelming.
“I’m just overwhelmed, I don’t know what to say,” said father Charles Warren, noting Eli was 10 years old. “He always like the Ninja TV shows and the WipeOut shows. He would have loved this.”
Warren, with Eli’s siblings Ian and Evie, noted that the course and park facility was a complete surprise that came via an anonymous donation.
“I’m awestruck,” said Warren, 47. “Who would have thought?”
Mom Releia Warren, joined by a grandmother of the family, Reba Cribb, Eli’s memory is a good tribute to her son’s youthful energy.
“This is something that Eli would have loved,” said Releia Warren. “He loved people and being outside. He was the most extroverted kid I’ve known. He would have loved making a fool of himself running through this course.”
Grandmother Cribb was a bit more solemn about the occasion, but appreciated the town’s efforts.
“The day makes your heart hurt seeing his picture up there and all,” said Cribb. “It’s a great way to honor him.”
Maranatha Church brought a large cadre of Warren friends dressed in Pigster Animation T-Shirts.
“Eli wanted to be a YouTube star like a lot of the kids on their now,” said Charles Warren. “He created this Pigster group and has a few videos there.”
Maranatha pastor Jeff Henderson, who was sporting an ankle boot for an injury, spoke of Eli as a church friend and also as a child who exuded the spirit of Jesus and of life.
“All of us would give whatever we could to not be here naming a park in his memory,” said Henderson. “If Eli were alive, we could still fittingly name the park to him as a living memorial because he very appropriately represents the joy and beauty of this place. He truly loved his family and friends.”
According to Annalease Winter, spokesperson for the Clay County Commissioners, the donor had traveled with the Warren family on a trip to Spain that got the ball rolling for the fitness course.
“The donor came to us about a year and a half ago, said the Warren family used to live near Van Zant Park and he wanted to make a donation,” said Winter, “That got the ball rolling and we started construction thereafter. I think it could become a great visit for local gym classes, even the Clay County Sheriff has shown interest for their PAL program.”
Winter noted that more items will be added to the park per the anonymous donator.