The First Presbyterian Church of Willoughby is offering a unique way for anyone who has lost a loved one to keep their memory alive

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Together with the First Presbyterian Church of Willoughby Pastor Shane Nanney, Kristy Somerlot and the whole congregation are working to create a pavilion on the grounds of the church as a place for people to enjoy fellowship and to sit quietly and remember their loved ones.

By Mary Malik

Kristy Somerlot is one of those people who, when you meet her, you feel an instant connection to. Her story is both tragic and joyful, filled with faith, a mother’s devotion and the search for solace amidst devastating circumstances. And because so many people share a similar situation, Kristy is working to create a place for everyone to reflect, pray, celebrate and remember.

Kristy is a wife and mother of two, Ben and Brittany. In 2009, Ben was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. After more than two years battling this painful and debilitating disease, Ben passed away on February 20, 2011, at the age of 28.

“Ben was a brilliant, vibrant young man just starting his life,” Kristy says. “He was newly married and working toward his Ph.D. in molecular genetics when he got sick. He endured many grueling treatments as he valiantly fought until the end.”

Kristy tells Ben’s story with tears in her eyes and the pride and joy of a loving mother as she describes what Ben meant not only to his family, but to everyone he met.

Ben Somerlot, a young, vibrant newlywed pursuing a Ph.D. in molecular genetics, passed away in 2011 from a rare form of cancer. He is the inspiration for the new Memorial Pavilion on the grounds of First Presbyterian of Willoughby.

“Ben cared much more about others than he did about himself, even when sick,” Kristy says. “He worried about me, his wife Cathy, his father, sister and grandmother, who he helped care for, but never himself.”

Kristy told me how Ben loved the outdoors and how the two of them would often get up in the middle of the night and go for long walks and talk.

“My husband is disabled, and money has always been tight,” Kristy says. “Ben lived at home through graduate school at Case Western Reserve University in order to save money. He was always thinking of us. He and his father loved to do special, quirky things together. They had a special bond.”

Kristy, Cathy, and Ben’s sister Brittany lived with Ben at Hospice House during his final months. They referred to themselves as the “Triad” and never left his side. Kristy considers herself blessed to have witnessed Ben lifting his head, opening his eyes, and smiling shortly before he died.

“That was a gift,” Kristy says. “Ben’s death is a loss not only to our family, but to the world. He was making a difference in his work and has been published several times posthumously.”

As part of the new First Presbyterian memorial pavilion, a memorial wall on which, for any contribution regardless of amount, a name will be engraved honoring a loved one.

Kristy and her family have searched for a way to honor Ben and to help others honor their loved ones. She knows many people have a stories like hers. As a lifelong and active member of the First Presbyterian Church of Willoughby, Kristy found support in her “church family” after Ben’s death.

“I was baptized here, and so were my children and grandchildren, I serve as a choir member and on several committees,” Kristy says. “It’s a big part of our family’s history.”

As a lifelong and active member of the First Presbyterian Church of Willoughby, Kristy Somerlot found support in her “church family” after her son Ben’s death.
The vision of the First Presbyterian church of Willoughby is to be an open, loving, and affirming community for all who attend, in person and virtually.

Together with First Presbyterian Pastor Shane Nanney, Kristy and her family decided a small pavilion on the grounds of the church as a place for people to sit quietly and remember their own loved ones would be a welcome addition.

“God had bigger plans, as he often does,” Kristy says. “Word spread and parishioners began donating to the Memorial Pavilion fund and the plan grew to what is now a 30-by-60-foot covered structure large enough to hold worship services and be rented for community events. The pavilion will have a full western wall with a fireplace and be fully wired for electricity. Renters will have use of the church parlor area along with restrooms to better serve large gatherings.”

Fundraising for the Memorial Pavilion began with a breakfast in the fall of 2022 to introduce the idea to an enthusiastic community. After that, official plans were underway for the pavilion, including the memorial wall where, for any contribution regardless of amount, a name will be engraved honoring a loved one.

“Even the plans themselves have ties to this church,” Kristy says. “A parishioner and architectural student, Sophia Blatnik did the architectural renderings, and parishioner Dale Ralph provided the blueprints.”

A second fundraiser, Picnic for the Pavilion, was held last month to introduce the Memorial Pavilion official renderings to the community. So far, the church is one-third of the way to meeting its financial goal.

“People are excited to see what we are planning for this community,” Kristy says. “It will serve as a beautiful outdoor gathering place for celebrations and a quiet spot for prayer and remembrance. It’s exactly what Ben would have wanted.”

To donate and memorialize a loved one at the Memorial Pavilion, send a check made out to First Presbyterian Church to 4785 Shankland Rd., Willoughby, OH 44094 and include the name you would like on the memorial wall. Or go to or call the church at 440-946-0070 for information.