Lakewood Ranch contemplation walk and tower dedication Saturday

vmannix@bradenton.comJune 26, 2013 

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Leanna Knopik would've appreciated the contemplative walk-and-viewing tower that bears her name.

Nestled amidst pine trees, it's a handsome three-story structure that overlooks a 600-acre preserve of woods, wetlands and wildlife.

"She loved the peacefulness of nature and I suspect she would've enjoyed this, too," said Steve Knopik, her father, chief executive officer of Bealls Inc. "It's a pretty awesome structure built in her honor."

The memorial will be dedicated at 10 a.m. Saturday for the 16-year-old who died last summer from myocarditis, a rare viral infection of the heart.

The meditative building is next to the Center for Building Hope, 5481 Communications Parkway, which provides free counseling and educational services for cancer patients, caregivers and family members.

"Leanna was a really spiritual girl, who believed in being outdoors," said Susan Kenyon, center vice president of development. "We thought this would be a perfect legacy for her."

Leanna Knopik was an honors student in Sarasota Riverview High School's International Baccalaureate program.

She was a black belt in tae kwon do and rowed with Sarasota Crew.

She was a budding musician on piano and guitar, too.

Yet her passion was mission work including the poor in Appalachia,

"Leanna really loved fixing up houses, helping the people who live up there," her father said. "She was really into that."

Leanna fell ill in West Virginia, returned home and after a heroic month-long battle in the hospital, succumbed July 19.

Her death was met with widespread disbelief.

"We were shocked by Leanna's sudden passing," restaurateur Michael Klauber said.

Leanna's death also generated a groundswell of community support for her family and part of that was a plan for Leanna's Way.

Beth Knopik, her mother, is a board member with Center for Building Hope. She envisioned adding a viewing tower to the center's campus and the board liked the idea, but put it on hold due to cost.

Leanna's passing gave impetus to the project.

"When all this happened, the board decided they wanted to see Beth's vision realized, create an icon that had Leanna's name on it," Steve Knopik said.

Michael Klauber and his wife, Terri, led the fundraising effort, which ultimately collected $150,000.

"We were driven to help fulfill Beth's dream," Klauber said.

A collaboration of Sarasota architects, builders, designers and engineers made it happen.

"We are deeply touched by the community's support," Beth Knopik said. "Leanna touched thousands of people with her story of bravery and faith. Leanna's Way will be a place for meditation, reflection, relaxation and to simply be."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter:@vinmannix

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