Air Force cadet plans 'friendship bench' for best friend

| Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013, 7:16 a.m.

Anytime Meredith Wilmer hears indie rock duo Matt & Kim's “Daylight,” she's transported back to the spring of 2010, running the trails at Duff Park with her best friend, Aryn Zimmerman.

During the spring of their senior year at Franklin Regional, the girls spent hours running on the trails as Wilmer prepared for basic training. As Wilmer, a 21-year-old Murrysville native prepares to graduate next year from the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado with a degree in astronautical engineering, she said she couldn't have done it without her best friend.

“I didn't exactly pick the easiest route for college. Academics, athletics, military duties and responsibilities of the Wings of Blue Parachute Team consume my life,” Wilmer said. “She keeps me sane in this insane place and she is always there for me.

“She's family.”

Wilmer hopes to have a permanent reminder of that friendship every time she visits Duff Park. Wilmer has petitioned to dedicate a “friendship bench” to Zimmerman to honor their friendship and best friends everywhere.

Initially, Wilmer wanted to dedicate a trail at Duff to Zimmerman; however, the municipality requires a donation of $1,000 per one-tenth of a mile for trail naming. A three-mile trail would cost about $30,000, according to the policy, and trails can't be split up for naming purposes.

That's a little bit beyond the budget of a college student. So instead, Mayor Bob Brooks suggested Wilmer consider dedicating a wooden bench instead, which would cost the college student $500. Wilmer said her friend is worth it.

“Aryn's been with me through it all,” Wilmer said. “When I think of my best friend, I think of eating entire packs of Bubblicious Gum, of roadtripping to the beach, of getting body piercings without parental permission on my 18th birthday, of crying when I read her college application essay of how I inspire her, of how she made me stop crying after terrible races or end-of-the-world breakups, of running miles next to each other in the rain, of reading her silly yet incredibly motivating letters in basic training, and of how her unconditional love and unbelievable support give tremendous meaning to the term ‘best friends forever.'”

The pair have been friends since their freshman year, when they played volleyball and joined the swim team together.

“We were absolutely inseparable, and the happy memories we've already made could fill a thousand lifetimes,” she said.

They've stayed very close since Wilmer went off to Colorado with the dream of being an astronaut. Instead, when she graduates, Wilmer will be commissioned as a second lieutenant and enter pilot training. Zimmerman's support has helped her realize those dreams, which is one of the reasons Wilmer wants to honor her friend.

The bench has to be approved by the municipal parks and recreation committee and council before it can be installed. The money won't be easy for a college student to come up with.

Wilmer said she can't wait to come home to Murrysville and hit the trail with Zimmerman.

“When the bench is finally in the park, the first thing she'll want to do is go running,” Wilmer said. “And probably carve our names in it. But she'll wait for me to come home.

“She always does.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627, or

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