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Spreading joy, for Alice

Playhouse at Duncan Lake Early Childhood Center honors memory of ‘the most joyful child’

Caledonia — Karen Beverage describes herself, husband Doug and 4-year-old son Doug Jr. as a “pretty normal family.” 

But this normal family experienced a tragic abnormality when their daughter, Alice, unexpectedly passed away in her sleep in December 2019, at age 5. 

Alice was a beloved daughter, sister and friend, and had been a student at Duncan Lake Early Childhood Center (DLECC) since she was 2. 

“Alice’s passing was completely unexpected and shocked our world,” Beverage said. “She was the most joyful child and brought joy everywhere she went and to everyone she met.”

Faced with tremendous loss and grief, Beverage and her husband knew “right away” it was important for them to continue sharing joy, just like Alice.

“We didn’t know what we wanted, but knew it had to spread joy,” Beverage said. “We would rather have her here with us, but it does help us when we’re sharing joy and keeping her spirit alive.” 

Alice’s young-5’s teacher, Tammy Geene, came to Beverage with the idea for a playhouse on the DLECC playground in honor of Alice.

Said Beverage: “Alice loved school and loved playing, so we thought the kiddos would have a lot of fun in a playhouse.”

Geene came up with the funds for the playhouse with help from Janel Switzer, DLECC’s outgoing principal, who told her to “go all out.” The idea partly came from Geene’s childhood spent playing in a pink playhouse at a park in Ada. 

“I thought about what Alice would want, and remembered her favorite thing in my classroom was to play with the dolls and the kitchen playset,” Geene said.

Geene also has a grant in progress to add more things to the inside of the playhouse.

“We appreciate Tammy so much,” Beverage said. “Alice loved her and now we love her.” 

The Beverage family, from left to right, Karen, Doug Jr. and Doug, at this month’s ribbon-cutting of Alice’s Play House in memory of their daughter

An Inspiration to Find More Joy

At the playhouse ribbon-cutting earlier this month, Doug Jr. cut the ribbon for his “sissy’s playhouse.” His class was the first group of students to play in it during outdoor time.

“It was a beautiful day with bright blue skies,” Beverage said. “It was one of those days when I knew Alice was watching down on us. It’s all bittersweet, but now there is something for other kids to play with.”  

Beverage and her family are working with their church to further spread joy and build a playscape in Alice’s honor on their playground. A friend also designed a “Choose Joy” shirt with a unicorn logo to sell to the community and donate profits to Kids’ Food Basket.

‘We would rather have her here with us, but it does help us when we’re sharing joy and keeping her spirit alive.’

— Karen Beverage, Alice’s mother

“Alice was in the building since she was 2, so everyone knows her family and they continue to stay so involved,” Geene said.

Since opening Alice’s Play House for play, Geene hopes the young students at DLECC learn the values of friendship, having fun and “playing for the sake of play.” 

“They’re a very strong family,” Geene said of the Beverages. “Losing a child is the hardest thing for anyone to ever go through, but they pull strength from their faith (and) community, finding joy in the little things. 2020 was a rough year, but I’m taking Karen’s lead in finding joy.”

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Alexis Stark
Alexis Stark is a reporter, covering Caledonia, Kenowa Hills, Godfrey-Lee, Grand Rapids and is a roving reporter for GRCC, Wyoming, Kentwood and Byron Center. She grew up in metro Detroit and her journalism journey brought her west to Grand Rapids via Michigan State University where she covered features and campus news for The State News. She also co-authored three 100-question guides to increase understanding and awareness of various human identities, through the MSU School of Journalism. Following graduation, she worked as a beat reporter for The Ann Arbor News - covering stories on education, community, prison arts and poetry.  Following a stint as a copywriter for a Grand Rapids area PR firm, she transitioned from communications to freelance writing and reporting for SNN. Read Alexis' full bio

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