The little star of Parker’s Park Project to help rebuild West City Park, demolished in the April 17 fertilizer plant explosion, was speechless Saturday as his brainstorm turned into a festival that drew thousands and raised more than $80,000.
Parker Pustejovsky is the 4-year-old son of Joey Pustejovsky, a volunteer firefighter who lost his life fighting the fire that caused the blast. The elder Pustejovsky had been active in many fundraisers and, as city secretary, helped secure grants to renovate the park. It was one of the closest areas to the explosion and was all but leveled.
Parker told his grandparents, Joe and Carolyn Pustejovsky, that he wanted to sell hot dogs to help rebuild it.
The idea caught on locally, and community volunteers put together an event from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the West City Hall lawn to charge $5 for a hot dog, chips and a drink. The proceeds from the fundraiser go to the park’s reconstruction.
“We expected 200 or 300 people,” Joe Pustejovsky said about 11:30 a.m., “but from the look of the crowd, I bet we get 4,000 or 5,000 in and out of here before it’s over.”
Though the event was Parker’s brainchild, Kelly Pustejovsky, Joey’s wife and Parker’s stepmother, said it seemed the fallen Joey Pustejovsky was very much there in spirit.
By late Saturday evening, the preliminary dollar total for the fundraiser was $83,000, and Kelly noted the significance of the numbers eight and three: Joey Pustejovsky was born on Aug. 3, or 8/3, in 1983, weighing 8 pounds 3 ounces.
As if that weren’t enough, Kelly mentioned that he was born at 8:03. In her excitement about the day’s success, she neglected to specify whether that was in the morning or at night.
Wearing a paper name tag identifying him as “Pepaw,” as Parker calls him, Joe Pustejovsky said the event got 26,000 hits on Facebook, which had a link to PayPal for donations, whether people wanted hot dogs or not.
The crowd included about 100 members of the Iron Circle and Blue Knights motorcycle clubs from Austin to Dallas. Parker’s uncle Frank, who works with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, is a member of the Blue Knights in Waco.
As the line for hot dogs stretched from north of City Hall a full block south to Pine Street and possibly beyond, event coordinator Joey Kolar said, “It’s just been astounding. It’s beyond unimaginable. We’ve got a team of people trying to keep track of donations,” pointing to volunteers with fistfuls of money.
Kolar, a lifelong friend of Joey Pustejovsky, said about 100 volunteers were working to serve food and drinks and manage a silent auction and sales of T-shirts and CDs produced for the occasion by about 20 local musicians, and other financial professionals would count and certify the receipts early this week.
About noon, officials said they had run out of chips and some other items, so the $5 donation was changed to a free-will offering.
“Just give what you want to,” an announcer said.
Shermco Industries of Dallas, where another uncle of Parker’s works, made the event a staff project.
A spokesman said the staff planned to present volunteers with hundreds of dollars for hot dogs — literally, hundreds of dollars for a single hot dog — soft drinks and other items until that group alone had donated $25,000.
At a special presentation about noon, donors filled Pustejovsky family members’ hands with cash and prepaid debit cards and gift cards.
A group of Baylor University athletes attended the event to show their continued support for West recovery efforts.
Parker seemed overwhelmed almost from the start. His grandfather said he spent two hours playing on inflatables until he had to be taken into the City Hall building to cool off.
He reappeared while the debit cards were being bestowed but was more interested in playing with toys with other children.
As soon as he could, he sped to the inflatables again and Kelly Pustejovsky couldn’t get him to slow down long enough to say anything.
Parker was Joey Pustejovsky’s biological son, and Kelly had other children she brought into their marriage.
“They’ve always been one family together, though,” she said. “You couldn’t tell who was related by blood.”
Officials have not determined how much money will be needed to restore the park, which suffered major damage to playground equipment, public restrooms and tennis courts, among other facilities.
But the efforts of Texans near and far, drawn by the big idea of one West 4-year-old, ensure that the play area popular with generations of West children will be hopping and swinging again soon.