LIMA — One year to the day after Maleek Nelson succumbed to a congenital heart disease, officials in Lima ensured the memory of the young man whose infectious smile and endearing personality captured the hearts of all who met him will last forever.
Through a joint effort by the Lima Police Department and the Lima Noon Optimist Club, the playground at Lima’s Safety City was renamed Thursday as the Honorary Police Officer Maleek L. Nelson playground.
Nelson was made an honorary member of the Lima Police Department in January 2017 at the age of 7 years old after officers first met him at a trick-or-treat event in 2016. The boy came dressed as a policeman. Patrolman Eric Mericle befriended the boy subsequently learned of his medical issues and also about of passion and love for police officers.
“Maleek was so special. He would brighten your day every time you saw him. We knew we had to do something for this amazing young man,” Mericle said during Thursday’s dedication ceremonies.
“His biggest desire was to become a police officer,” said Police Chief Kevin Martin, “and he inspired a lot of people. He certainly inspired me. He helped me remember what it means to be a cop. That’s why we are dedicating this playground in memory of Officer Nelson. It’s important as a community that we remember special young people like Maleek … and to be inspired by them.”
Mayor David Berger read a proclamation declaring Thursday as Maleek Nelson Day in Lima, and said the playground at Safety City is “now tied to a child who sought to serve this community” with his “fun-loving character and positivity.”
Ricky Nelson, Maleek’s father, fought back tears as he briefly addressed the crowd gathered for Thursday’s event.
“I miss him so much,” said Nelson, who also lost his wife in the year since Maleek died.
“My heart has been torn apart, but I’m okay. I knew my baby was a special baby, and it’s nice that they have done this for him. I thank everybody for coming out today,” Ricky Nelson said.
Ken Hall, a representative of the Lima Noon Optimist Club, said naming the playground in honor of Maleek was “the right thing to do.”
A plaque was erected inside the Optimist shelterhouse at the park and a shadow box display recognizing Maleek will be hung inside the community building at Safety City.
Family and friends of Maleek will gather at 2 p.m. Saturday at Colony Mobile Home Community, 3290 Harding Highway in Lima, for a second annual balloon release marking Maleek’s birthday.