A Mahtomedi couple mourning their infant son have raised nearly half the $100,000 needed to build a community playground in his name.

Becky and Craig Markovitz hope the playground, set to break ground next spring at Mahtomedi’s Southwest Park, will keep alive the memory of their son, Aaron, who was born prematurely last year and died at seven weeks.

“He was very loving and he captured the hearts of not only us, but all of the family members that came to visit,” Becky Markovitz said. “He had this kind of warmth about him which was very inviting, and that’s why we really want to share him with our community.”

Craig, who works in the field of medical devices, and Becky, who has been taking time off work to grieve, met while earning doctorates in biomedical engineering at the University of Minnesota. They had been living in Germany before returning to the United States when Becky was six months pregnant.

Aaron was born 11 weeks early and weighed just over 2 pounds. He was admitted to Children’s Minnesota Hospital in St. Paul, where he died later of lung complications.

Becky Markovitz said she would sing as she held him and he would open his eyes to the sound of her voice. “He was a curious and captivating little child,” she said.

After Aaron’s death, the couple received a memorial check from Wishes & More, a nonprofit that provides grants to families who have lost a child, and they began to think of ways they could use the money to remember their son.

They decided to build a playground near their house, Craig said, as a place where they could go as a family. The couple spoke at a Mahtomedi City Council meeting in February to talk about their plans for what they’ve dubbed “Aaron’s Playground.”

“We thought a playground would be awesome,” Craig said. “It’s something that could bring joy to the community. It’s a place that would be uplifting that we could visit with our future family that would bring happiness to ourselves and the community.”

No specific spot has yet been chosen for the playground, said Mahtomedi Public Works director Bob Goebel, but it likely would be built west of the upper soccer field.

The couple will provide the money they raise for the playground as a donation to the city, which would then solicit bids to build it. The city will maintain the playground once it is built, Goebel said.

The Markovitzes haven’t firmly established the details. They said they want a large structure where children of all ages can play, with swings, slides and areas to climb.

The playground will feature the likeness of a ladybug. While Aaron was in the hospital, he was placed in the ladybug wing, Becky said.

Goebel said the park, which has two baseball diamonds and two soccer fields, is busy with families nearly every night of the week. But it has only a small playground.

“What we have now is a very small, limited playground for toddlers,” Goebel said. “So this is going to fit perfect in our scope for the park.”

City officials also plan to use the playground’s construction as a time to extend an existing trail through the 16-acre park.

The couple plan to continue fundraising through the end of the year, leading up to what they hope will be the purchase of playground equipment in early 2020.

“We want to share Aaron’s story,” Craig said. “That’s why we’re ultimately doing this.”


Isabella Murray is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.