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Outdoor reading area in Commack built in memory of teen

Shana Kay, seen in this undated family photo,

Shana Kay, seen in this undated family photo, died in 2005 at age 19 after contracting encephalitis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the brain. Credit: Newsday/Ed Betz

Shana Kay loved to read. Her mother, Jane, still has the last book Shana read -- Nelson DeMille's "Spencerville," with Shana's bookmark stuck midway through.

Library users at the Commack branch of the Smithtown Library system soon will be able to continue Shana's love of books in a vibrant new outdoor reading area constructed in her name.

Shana died in 2005 at age 19 after contracting encephalitis, a viral infection that causes inflammation of the brain.

"I'm thrilled with the fact they are doing this to honor their daughter," Commack branch manager Sandra Atlas said. "Someone who was such a proponent of reading and libraries."

The reading area is one of several projects in the Commack community undertaken and funded by The Shana Kay Memorial Fund, which was created in Shana's honor after her death by Jane Kay, 59, a social worker, and her husband Randy, 60, a dentist. Donations come from family and friends, the Kays said. Recently, friends in California sent out wedding invitations asking for donations to the fund in lieu of gifts.

So far new scoreboards have gone up at Commack High School, a rock climbing wall was erected at Indian Hollow Primary School and a new track was installed at Burr Intermediate School. Plans are under way for a new playground at North Ridge Primary School.

The Kays say they never have proposed a specific project. Instead, they ask an institution what it needs and then fund the work, adding a dedication to their daughter.

The two scoreboards cost a combined $10,000 and a statue at another Commack library was $3,000.

The playground at North Ridge -- a climbing playground, with rope elements, for kindergartners -- will cost $10,000 to $11,000, Randy Kay said, and should be ready when school starts in September.

"They are a lovely couple and we are fortunate that they walked into our life for the kids' and community's benefit," North Ridge principal Katherine Rihm said. "Their generosity and the fact they give back to school is a really touching way to honor their daughter."

The reading area is their most ambitious project to date. Expected to cost around $25,000, the Shana Kay Memorial Outdoor Reading Area was approved unanimously by the Smithtown Special Library District board of trustees last month after a presentation by the couple.

It will include a paved outdoor area with seating, tables, lighting and natural shade provided by trees. In the center will be a plaque with a tribute to Shana. The Kays expect the reading area to be open by the end of the summer.

At the time of her death, Shana had completed her freshman year at the University of Wisconsin, Randy Kay said. In Commack, she had been an honor roll student and was active in clubs and sports teams.

Eight years later, her parents said, their grief is undiminished. The projects, they say, are ways to memorialize her.

"If we think of her, others will remember her," Randy Kay said.

"And that's the best we can do for us, and for her," Jane said.

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