EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Smiles and tears both flowed freely Feb. 21 during the dedication of “Cubby’s” Corner at the Egg Harbor Township branch of the Atlantic County Library System.

Cubby was the nickname of Michael Lancaster, who died in a drowning accident in 2016.

“He was a vibrant, active 4-year-old. He loved to read ever since he was 2 years old,” said Cubby’s mother, Mary Lancaster.

Cubby loved to visit the library, which his parents happily supported by taking him there three to four times a week. While Cubby was a voracious reader in his own right, he loved story times at the library.

“He would always ask if it was story time,” said his mother.

After Cubby’s tragic death, his parents wanted to find some way to keep his memory alive. It was then that the idea of Cubby’s corner was born.

“The corner came about from a friend of ours,” said Mary. The Lancasters loved the idea and soon the plans were put into motion.

In Cubby’s corner, which can be found in the Children’s section of the Egg Harbor Township Branch, kids will find an assortment of books that include some of Cubby’s favorites and some brand-new ones. “I was excited to see the books they selected,” Mary said.

Not only will the dedicated corner serve as a place to honor Cubby, it also will be a place to keep children interested in reading.

“Kids aren’t reading like they used to,” said Michael Lancaster, Cubby’s father. “We just want the kids to keep reading.”

Mary echoed her husband’s thoughts, adding “I hope the many kids and future kids enjoy for years to come.”

Dozens of people filled the children’s section to watch the dedication ceremony. Attendees included Cubby’s large extended family, friends, past and present library employees, and several Atlantic County officials.

“I was moved by his story,” said Linda Gilmore, Atlantic County public information officer. “His family, to their credit, wanted to turn a tragedy into something good.”

During the ceremony, the Lancasters were given two plaques, one of which was presented by Atlantic County Freeholders Maureen Kern and John Risley, on behalf of Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson, who sent his regrets of not being able to attend personally.

Supervising library assistant Vicki Branca, who used to work at the Egg Harbor Branch before transferring to the Mays Landing Branch, was one of several people to speak during the dedication. Branca often did story times at the Egg Harbor Branch and got to know Cubby very well.

“He had a smile that went from ear to ear,” said Branca as she fought back tears. She reminisced about how fun Cubby was to have during story times and their mutual love of Snoopy. “I sincerely miss him.”

Mary thanked everyone for coming.

“He [Cubby] would have loved this,” she said. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to be here today ... to dedicate a little piece of heaven on earth.”

The last person to speak during the dedication was Cubby’s sister, Luisa Lancaster, 7.

Luisa fearlessly stood up in front of the crowded room and spoke about some of her own precious memories of her brother.

“We would always go to sleep at the same time and hug each other when we went to school,” said Luisa, leaving not a dry eye in the room.

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