Ballfield bench a tribute to Bunn
by W. WINSTON SKINNER
“Hit the dadgum ball.”
Jeanie Bunn’s words are now permanently enshrined at the Whitlock Park soccer fields. On Mother’s Day, there was a gathering of Bunn’s family, “the Mamas” and the children of the Mamas. A bench – with Bunn’s oft repeated shout to the players – was dedicated, and balloons with messages were sent aloft.
Bunn, 49, died March 15 after a long battle with cancer. Before and during that battle she bonded with the other Mamas – a group initially connected because of their daughters’ interest in competitive sports.
“When our girls were 5, they started playing ball on this field,” Leesa Bates recalled. Bunn, Bates and other mothers attended the games and practices regularly and began to talk and get acquainted.
“We formed a bond that goes beyond friendship, and our girls did, too,” Bates said.
While their connection initially was Whitlock Park, “we got together outside the ballpark,” Bates said. “We looked after each other. When Jeanie was sick, we took meals to them on a nightly basis.”
In addition to Bates and Bunn, the Mamas include Renee Bowman, Hope Donaldson, Pat Edwards, Donna Gordon, Maggie Gunter, Brooke Hall, Shannon Kent, Stacie Spicer and Tammy Storey.
Bates sang at her friend’s funeral. She recalled visiting Bunn a few days earlier and talking with her about the service. It was the only time, she said, that the person personally selected what she would sing at their service.
In the days after the funeral, the Mamas shared a feeling that something should be done in Bunn’s memory. Pretty quickly, they settled on a bench – “something that would last,” Bates said, and which could be placed where they connected.
“We wanted something that would last forever,” Edwards said. Spicer said she “had some ideas” about the project, but that Gunter “found the site that we ordered from.”
“Hopefully, other mothers and daughters can form the friendship that we have,” Bates said.
Bates talked about Bunn’s dedication to her children even when she was gravely ill. “She didn’t miss a ballgame. She didn’t miss practices,” Bates said.
“Even the week before she died, she was at her son’s baseball game,” Spicer remembered.
The Mamas laughed as they recalled Bunn’s purse – which contained everything. If someone need a Band-Aid, some Chapstick, suntan oil – Bunn had it.
“She could have been on ‘Let’s Make A Deal,’” Bates quipped.
The Mamas also remembered Bunn as someone who could assert herself, if necessary. “She was little, but she wasn’t going to let anybody pick on the girls,” Bates said.
As a brilliant Georgia sun shone over the fields on Mother’s Day, Storey maneuvered to get Jerry Bunn and his children to the ballfield. There Bates shared a few words, telling the family that the bench is “a place where y’all can come and sit and share your memories,” she said.
Bowman has moved out-of-state, and she sent a text message that was shared.
The family quietly looked at the bench, the balloons ready to be sent aloft and a pot of flowers placed on the seat.
“That’s really nice,” Jerry Bunn said.
The Mamas’ commitment to each other – and to Jeanie Bunn – has manifested itself in another way. The Mama Bunn Team for Relay for Life had more than 100 participants this year and raised more than $3,700.
Storey was pleased with the funds raised to fight cancer – particularly “for our first year.”
The team plans to continue annually to raise money for cancer research in memory of the Mama who wanted the girls to hit the dadgum ball. “We want to continue to honor her memory,” Storey said.