STEUBENVILLE - The tears started rolling down Alex Cookie West's cheeks as she listened to boys and girls practicing their baseball skills at the Belleview Park ballfields.
She used to sit in the stands at Belleview Park to watch her son, Lee, play baseball.
"Lee played a lot of baseball here. He played on an all-star team for Richie Blackburn and they were 19-0 that summer. I can remember Lee pitching. He was such a competitor. I would tell him to channel his competition. And if he felt frustrated to say 'Jesus' 10 times and then he won't feel mad. A lot of things like listening to kids playing baseball remind me of Lee, but I can't be in fear of going places," explained Cookie West.
REMEMBERING HER SON — Cookie West, mother of the late Lee West, is planning a community gathering for Saturday at Belleview Park to mark her son’s birthday. Lee West died in a house fire on Jan. 31. He would have celebrated his 16th birthday on July 23. -- Dave Gossett
Lee West died on Jan. 31, the victim of an accidental house fire. He was 15 years old.
The soft-spoken woman is planning a birthday party from noon to 7 p.m. on Saturday at the lower Belleview Park area to celebrate her son's 16th birthday "and to introduce the Lee Alexander West Spiritual Movement and nonprofit foundation."
"This will be a community event for everyone. I want the Ohio Valley community to join me in remembering Lee and to keep Lee's spoken wishes alive," said Cookie West.
Cookie said free food will be served from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., and games and activities will end at 5 p.m. so cake can be served at 5:30 p.m.
"Everyone I have talked to or met was touched by Lee in one way or another. Teachers, students, adults and children have told me stories of how Lee touched them. So with the help of some really awesome people we have organized this movement to do what's right in God's sight. We want to promote Christian activities throughout the Ohio Valley's youth and families to help enrich and engage their mind, body and spirit," according to Cookie West.
"We want to financially and spiritually help single mothers and single fathers and to give back to the community through works and deed," noted Cookie.
"When this all happened that night and the days following that day, people would come up to me and say they didn't know my son but felt compelled to help you and pray for you," related Cookie.
"Lee was such a big part of our lives. And I wake up every day thinking of him. I cry when I need to cry and when I feel sad then I am sad. I won't feel any different 20 years from now. Its the reality we have to live with every day. Its hard to face it but you have to face it. I feel a part of my heart is missing," she said.
"Lee was a freshman in high school but he already knew he wanted to be an engineer. He had told me the day of the fire that he was looking at the different types of engineering careers. He took his future very seriously. In fact after he passed I received a letter for him from a leadership conference in Washington, D.C., inviting Lee to this year's conference on national security. That took my breathe away," Cooke said.
Lee was an honor student at Steubenville High School.
"He was so looking forward to starting football practice this year. He loved all sports but was excited to be a part of the Big Red football team," his mother said.
"Lee was a talker. And he was a caring, considerate person. My daughters talk about him all the time. That's the part I miss the most. That everyday conversation with Lee. He was a really good son," she remarked.
"I believe Lee is looking down from heaven. I will be walking in a store and see the peanut butter. That's what Lee always ate. I believe Lee is always with me. I know I will see Lee again. I understand and respect God's plan. He needed Lee. And God has comforted me. My tears are tears of joy because Lee is in heaven. And they are tears of sorrow because I miss him," Cookie said.
"I remember when I was praying, God came to me and said Lee was with the angels. I told God I was OK because Lee was with him. The only way to function and to be who I am is through the grace of God. I know how my heart feels but I have God. And I have more good days than bad," explained Cookie.
"I pray for this tragedy can be a blessing for all of our communities. And I hope everyone and anyone who was touched by Lee can join us Saturday to remember Lee and to start working together for the future of all of our children," she said.