Son's Traffic Death Prompts Local Couple to Start Safety Village of Darien
Facility is miniature version of a town complete with streets, stop signs.
When Dave and Cindie Hagen of Darien think back to the days and weeks following the death of their son after he was struck and killed by a car in 1987, much of it is a blur.
“I don’t know how we survived it,” Cindie Hagen said. “We’d lost parents and grandparents and that’s horrible. But losing a child--they’re not supposed to die before you.”
The Hagens had been on a family vacation in Oregon in 1987 when Mark, 9, was hit while crossing the street by a driver who had not been paying attention to the road.
“You go through all the stages of grief,” Cindie Hagen said. “We just existed for weeks and weeks and weeks.”
The Hagens, including their daughter, Kelly, who was 16 at the time of her brother’s death, credit the support of family and friends for helping them survive.
“When you lose a child, it just pulls from the bottom of your soul and you try to figure out how to get through each day,” Cindie Hagen said. “You find out you didn’t know you had that many tears in you.
"For a long time all we could see was the scene of the accident and the hospital. We didn’t survive because we are these good people. It’s because we were able to pull together and because of a very strong support system.”
After many months, the Hagen family was encouraged to start a safety program for children.
“We thought, ‘What better way to help prevent some accidents?’” Cindie Hagen said. “We knew we couldn’t prevent every accident but if we could prevent some we could do that in Mark’s honor.”
The Hagens spent many months researching safety for children and talking to fire, police and school individuals who helped guide them into developing a curriculum.
Operating out of classrooms at Lace School, the first Safety Village of Darien class was held in August 1988 and had 39 students.
“Then it just kept building from there,” Cindie Hagen said.
But the Hagens dreamed of one day having a permanent location for their classes.
In 1994, through fund-raisers and donations, they were able to open up their own facility on land north of Lace School at 7400 Cass Ave. The facility is a miniature version of a town complete with streets and stop signs in which children can practice bike safety in realistic settings, minus the dangers of real streets.
Classes at Safety Village are primarily geared toward children ages 5 through 7, and are offered throughout the summer months. There is also a class for students 8 through 10, held in late summer.
Subjects also include bullying, pedestrian safety, fire safety and stranger danger.
“Over 60 aspects of safety are taught,” Cindie Hagen said.
The Hagens also tell Mark’s story during the classes.
“It’s not for sympathy or to upset the children,” Cindie Hagen said. “The reason we do it is because our son was shown to be doing the correct thing by all the witnesses. It’s important that children know the dangers of the street but also that they have to be aware of what’s going on around them.”
There are still slots available for this summer's classes. Visit safetyvillageofdarien.org for more information.