SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3/KSPR) - The legacy lives on for a Springfield school teacher who always wanted an all-inclusive playground. Special Education teacher Nick Hostler died unexpectedly of a heart attack at the young age of 35 on May 30, 2018.
Since Hostler's passing, his motto with his class of students living with special needs still rings loud and clear in the hallways at McBride Elementary School. "Let me show you what they CAN do," Hostler would say, leaving any doubts behind.
One of the many things his students could do was play, but it wasn't so easy for them on the school's playground. "He realized that the playground was limited as to what they could do, very limited," explained Mary Kay Hostler, Nick's mom.
That's why it became his goal to at least get a swing for his students. Now, the idea has grown to a playground with a $400,000 price tag. "We started to dream small and then we were encouraged to dream big," Mary Kay said.
The $400,000 playground measures out to about 7,500 square feet. The latest renderings include a structure with easy-access ramps, a tiled play area, zip-line swings, and a ground level merry-go-round.
Mary Kay and her husband Gil want to give the best equipment to their son's students he left behind. They also want to give these kids the tools to help others see beyond their differences. "See beyond the wheel chair, see beyond the walker, see the person," said Gil Hostler, Nick's dad.
KY3 News tagged along as one of Nick's students went to the current McBride playground. Six-year-old Parker Atchley uses a walker because of a movement disorder. "You realize the world is not built for kids like Parker," began Kathryn Atchley, Parker's mom. "A playground, of all places, should be a place where kids of all abilities, all backgrounds can come together and play side-by-side," she continued.
Atchley talked about how the current playground at McBride also doesn’t promote independence for Parker and students like him. "He's just like a normal kid, he wants to do things on his own," she said.
She also talked about the concerns she has for his safety. "When there are barriers in his way, like even just grass in a playground or a park where I have to help him with his walker get across it because it's not safe," she added. "He'll tip over and fall and trip on even the smallest little hole in the ground."
Those supporting the creation of what will be called the 'Mr. Nick Playground' know there is a lot of work and fundraising to be done still. However, Nick's parents said when they get discouraged they think of kids like Parker and remember what it's all about.
The goal is to break ground on the inclusive playground on May 30, 2020 so it can be completed in time for the next school year. That will also be the two-year anniversary of Nick Hostler's fatal heart attack.
To learn about upcoming fundraising events for Mr. Nick's Playground, head to the Nick Hostler Foundation Facebook. Nick's parents, Gil and Mary Kay Hostler, regularly post updates there.
To donate directly to the playground, those interested can do that through the Foundation for Springfield Public Schools. Donations can be made in person, via mail, or on through their web page.