At the time of its 1995 dedication, the Children’s Fountain at North Oak and East 32nd Avenue, at the north end of downtown North Kansas City, was said to be the “largest fountain of its kind in America.” The fountain pumps five and a half thousand gallons of water per minute and at the time ran year-round, despite frigid winter weather. An event program from its dedication noted that the hundred-foot Children’s Fountain was only the second fountain to be built north of the Missouri River and would be the first adorned with original sculptures.
Those sculptures—six larger-than-life bronze sculptures of children frolicking across an oval-shaped pond—are what most people notice now. The children depicted weren’t just picked from the sky but were modeled after locals.
It was an ambitious project for the time, even for the folks spearheading the effort, which included Anita Gorman, a powerhouse parks commissioner, and Charles Garney of Briarcliff Development and Garney Construction. Both were tireless advocates of the Northland.
Sitting on an island-like triangular speck of land surrounded by roads, the fountain was the result of a massive fundraising campaign by the Northland’s power brokers. It cost close to $2 million at the time, which is more than $3 million in today’s dollars.
The statues are meant to personify the “hope, joy and promise of our growing community.” With that in mind, Gorman and Garney enlisted the help of local sculptor Tom Corbin and set to work.
The smallest of the statues is shown tentatively putting one toe in the water and was modeled after Aubree Collins, a student at the Northland’s Eastgate Middle School. Her father, Paul Collins, worked for the city’s Parks Department.
The soccer player statue is Tom McClung and was donated by his mother, Susan Perry. The ballerina is Jill James Skjervem, daughter of Gerald James. The Speas Foundation paid for the sculpture of the boy shown with crutches in the air. The handstand sculpture “looks at the world from all angles, as children do,” and was underwritten by the Kansas City Southern Railroad, according to the event program.
The leader of the pack and the largest of the figures is Joy. Standing at ten feet tall, she symbolizes Garney’s six daughters and was said to be a “tribute” to the “freedom which today challenges young women to be all that they can be,” notes the program.
Contributor Dawnya Bartsch writes about architecture and interior design. A California transplant, she’s a seasoned journalist and art history buff.
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