Lee West should be participating in football drills, preparing for his senior year and visiting college campuses.
He will be remembered Saturday during the third-annual Lee Alexander West Birthday Bash from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. Saturday at Belleview Park.
"Lee never met a stranger. He was always able to connect with people. He had a gift from God in that way. Lee was always about community. And I have seen the goodness in this community and the surrounding communities. The party is more like a family reunion. This is a chance for different people to connect with others that they may not normally talk to," said Lee's mother Cookie West.
Photo by Dave Gossett/Cookie West stands at the Belleview Park ballfield where her son, Lee West, played baseball. Cookie West is planning an 18th birthday party to remember Lee West, who died Jan. 31, 2012, in a house fire. Lee West would be a senior this fall at Steubenville High School.
The party will offer attendees free entertainment, food and games followed by ice cream and cake at approximately 5 p.m.
"Lee had a unique goodness about him that was given to him by God. We as a family and a community may not understand why Lee was taken from us. But we want to celebrate his life. And we want to get to know other people in our community. Once you get to know a person they can become a lifelong friend. That is how Lee approached life," said Cookie West.
"We had about 1,200 people for the first year we held the birthday party. Last year we saw approximately 700 people come to the park. But this year we have reached out to area churches and organizations to invite them and to ask them to encourage their members to join us," Cookie West noted.
Lee West would have turned 18 on July 23.
"We have had a very peaceful event the last two years. And I know Lee will be smiling down on Belleview Park Saturday. Last year it was supposed to rain during his birthday party but I knew it wouldn't rain. And while it rained all around, it didn't rain in the park," she said.
The tears started rolling down Cookie West's cheeks as she talked about the son she lost two and a half years ago.
"I could do something personal and private. But I remember Lee talking about things he wanted to do for the community. And I know he would want a community event like this to bring people together. No matter how overwhelming this can become, sometimes it is worth it to celebrate Lee's life and the community. Please don't think it is hard to share him with everyone else. This is the kind of young man he was. Lee always cared about others," she continued. "It is still hard for me. I am strong in my faith and I believe what God says in the Bible. But it is still very difficult to lose a child. It is OK to love Jesus and not be ashamed. Lee gave his life to Jesus. He was smart, athletic, charismatic and handsome. He was a peaceful person and he gave his life to Christ."