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The tragic story behind this children’s monument at Rusch Park

A monument stands near a toddler’s playground in Rusch Park, erected in the 1970s to remember several children killed in the area. // S. Williams

By Sara Beth Williams–
At Rusch Park, a lone monument stands encased in stone at the entrance to the playground near the softball fields with the inscription: “This playground memorial is dedicated in memory of those children who have met with untimely tragedy. ‘Grieve not for they rest in Heaven.’”

In May of 1964, seven-year-old James (Jimmy) Gaul was killed and his slayer has never been apprehended. The story of Gaul’s murder was published all over the state, from the Chico Enterprise-Record newspaper to The Hanford Sentinel.

Related: Cold Case: Renewed interest arises in unsolved murder of Citrus Heights boy

In the days and months to follow, moms in the Citrus Heights community began collecting funds in Gaul’s name. According to archived Sacramento Bee and Press-Tribune articles, the Jimmy Gaul Memorial Fund quickly collected over $200.

Roughly two weeks later, according to an archived article in The Press-Tribune, four-year-old Linda Huebler was accidentally struck and killed by a truck while playing in her front yard. While her tragedy was not nearly as publicized or well known, her death, along with Gaul’s, prompted the entire Citrus Heights community to ­come together.

After Huebler’s death, three family friends established the Citrus Heights Children’s Memorial Fund with the purpose of creating a “living memorial for the children.” The Children’s Memorial Fund was a volunteer-based standing committee with the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce at the time.

A 1964 Press-Tribune article indicates additional funds were raised through the airing of a film and color cartoon at Citrus Heights Elementary, where Gaul attended school. Other fundraisers included a dance at Sylvan Middle School and bake sales.

In July 1964, the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce sponsored the first annual Children’s Memorial Observance celebration, which was held at Rusch Park. The inaugural event had over 60 merchants, who all contributed to a set of raffle prizes. The Press-Tribune reported proceeds were collected in honor of Gaul and Huebler, and went toward the purchase of little league equipment and playground equipment for children in Citrus Heights.

In 1967, two pieces of playground equipment were purchased with funds raised. Don Werve, a Citrus Heights correspondent for The Press-Tribune at the time described the park as “a world designed for children.”

“The park encourages imagination [and] releases the younger child from many of the adult pressures of a harsh reality, letting him be who, where and when he might wish,” he wrote in a June 22, 1967 article.

The Children’s Memorial Observance event was chronicled frequently in The Press-Tribune for at least 14 years. The annual event included a community parade, food vendors, and softball games.

In 1977, an article in The Sacramento Bee announced the dedication of the monument which still stands in the park. It was dedicated during the 14th annual Citrus Heights Children Memorial observance.

The monument was presented by the Citrus Heights Youth Fund and the Citrus Heights Children’s Memorial fund. Archived articles indicate that the Citrus Heights Chamber of Commerce was in charge of both funds, but no other records could be obtained by The Sentinel regarding the youth memorial fund.

While the play structures in front of the softball fields have received upgrades over the decades, the 1977 monument stands as a permanent memorial to Gaul, Huebler, and all children whose lives have been cut short by untimely tragedy.

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