Girl honored with Zahra playground gift

The story of Zahra Baker's death touched a father so much he decided to honor one of his daughters through a gift to a playground that will benefit all children.

Jim Shuford, president and CEO of Shurtape Technologies Inc., recently gave $25,000 to the Western Catawba County Kiwanis Club for the Zahra Baker All-Children's Playground. He made the donation in honor of his daughter, 11-year-old Josephine Baker Shuford, according to a press release from the city of Hickory.

"What happened to Zahra Baker was a tragedy, and when her photo kept reappearing in the news, my heart sank even more as one of my daughters is Zahra's age and they both have a beautiful freckled face with dimples, similar hair and a great smile," Shuford said.

"I know the playground will be an extraordinary place where children of all abilities can play," he continued, "but it is also a reminder to adults how precious all children are and that it is our responsibility to ensure their safety."

Shuford said he read in the newspaper that the Kiwanis Club had doubled its goal for the playground and raised $175,000, and that Hickory Mayor Rudy Wright set a new goal of $200,000 for the project.

Shuford said he wanted to make up the difference.

"The Zahra Baker Playground has been an overwhelmingly successful project," Kiwanis member Steve Aaron said, "and with Jim's generous gift of $25,000, it will enable us to add more to the playground, which is going to not only be a park where all children can play together, it will be a destination to a happy place with the best play equipment in the metro area and beyond."

Officials broke ground for the playground on Nov. 16, a day that would have been Zahra's 12th birthday. Zahra died in September 2010. Elisa Baker pleaded guilty to second-degree murder earlier this year, and she faces up to 18 years in prison.

Josie Shuford will be 12 in June. One of her favorite colors is purple, which was also one of Zahra's favorite colors, according to the press release. Purple will be one of the main colors in the playground.

"It is so nice of my dad to do that for me and pretty cool to be a part of a special playground for all kids," Josie said. "The playground looks fun and has lots of ramps so all kids can get on the equipment."