(Photo by Leonna Heuring, Staff)
SIKESTON -- Preschooler Levi Collom loved superheroes, often referring to them as "super powers" to his parents.
"He was of that age where superheroes were the big thing," said his father, Glenn Collom of Benton, adding Levi and his older sister, Victoria, would play together with the superheroes often.
But Levi, who died March 18 of unknown causes, seemingly had super powers of his own.
"It's amazing to me the number of lives that Levi -- in his short, little time -- had touched," said his maternal grandmother, Viney Mosley of Cape Girardeau.
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, Mosley said.
"He was just the sweetest little boy you could ever asked for," said paternal grandmother Bobbi Collom of Sikeston. "... 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, -- he was just a loving child who never gave you any trouble,"
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," Mrs. 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," Levi's mother, Ellen "Ellie" Collom recalled.
However, the family's decision to donate money to the nonprofit organization evolved into them also making an exhibit in Levi's honor, Mrs. Collom said.
"The exhibit would be things all of our family have done with Levi, and his favorite things," Mrs. Collom said.
In addition to superheroes, especially Spiderman and Batman, Levi, whose favorite color was orange, loved riding his John Deere gator, jumping on the trampoline, reading books and watching Power Rangers on TV.
But the exhibit is not just about him though, 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," Mrs. Collom said, adding Levi liked playing with his sister and camping with his family at Van Buren.
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 recalled. "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. May 25, 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," Mrs. 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," Mrs. 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," 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, Mrs. Collom added.
Music, food, beverages, a silent auction, door prizes, raffle tickets and other entertainment are planned for the event, which requires a $15 cover charge.
"The Sikeston community has been overly generous. Everybody I've spoken to has wanted to donate, and I can't say enough about the community," Crabtree said about local contributions for the fundraiser.
Mrs. Collom said 100 percent of the fundraiser's profits will go toward the exhibit, and all donations are tax-deductible.
"The fundraiser at Jeremiah's, to me, is more of a celebration of life. It's not going to be sad and everyone in tears and crying," Mrs. Collom said.
Planning for the exhibit and upcoming fundraiser have helped the Collom family with the grieving process, Mrs. Collom said.
"It's given us an outlet to look at the positive things and the wonderful things people can do and are going to do," Mrs. Collom said.
And while, of course, Levi's family would rather have him back, 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),'" Mrs. 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."
How to help...
-- Attend the "Help Levi's Legacy Live On" fundraiser
Beginning at 6 p.m. May 25 under tents on the east side of Jeremiah's Restaurant and Lounge in Sikeston, all proceeds from the "patio party" fundraiser will help create an exhibit in honor of the late Levi Stephen Collom at The Discovery Playhouse Children's Museum. Levi, who died at age 3-1/2 on March 18, is the son of Ellen and Glenn Collom of Benton and grandson of Steve and Viney Mosley of Cape Girardeau and Bobbi Collom of Sikeston. A concept drawing of the exhibit is also slated to be revealed during the fundraiser.
A silent auction will be from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. with winners announced at 10:30 p.m. A large number of items were donated for the auction and can be viewed by following Levi's Event Page on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/events/346256258.... Silent auction items will also be accepted by organizers until the day of the event.
Raffle tickets for 15 prizes, which include two St. Louis Cardinals tickets, a 40-inch LCD TV, barbecue grill package and $150 cash are being sold for $10 each or three for $25.
Advance tickets may be purchased at Hi-Tech Communications and First State Community Bank. The $15 cover charge includes appetizers, chocolate fountain and one draft beer or cola. Draft beer will also be available for $2. An appearance by the Bud Girls will be sponsored by the family business Bob Ralph Distributing Inc., which are relatives to Levi's family. Some members of the Sikeston Jaycees will have a dunking booth. The blues band, Ivas John Band, will perform, and surprise entertainment will also be announced.
-- Mail donations
Donations may be mailed to: The Levi Stephen Collom Memorial Fund, c/o First State Community Bank, 201 N. Main St., Sikeston, MO 63801.
-- Online donations
They can also be made online at Razoo.com by searching for "Levi Stephen Collom Fund." A video of Levi with family and friends can also be viewed here.
-- Other ways to help
The family is also seeking matching grants and corporate support.
Resources for building the exhibit will also be needed .
-- Learn more
Visit the Facebook page:http://www.facebook.com/LeviStephenCollomFund or contact Gina Crabtree at (573) 225-5714 or Theresa Proffer at (573) 380-5691.