Gwendolyn Grace Anderson Van Kirk, 4, of Ahwatukee Foothills died unexpectedly on June 11 at home.

She was born to Michael and Jennifer Anderson Van Kirk on Sept. 27, 2005, in Phoenix. She was a joyful and radiant child whose zest for life was apparent in all she did. She loved to swim, create art projects, dress up in costumes, hug her stuffed animals and dance. Her legion of stuffed dogs were all named, interrelated and led by a giant tutu-clad Dalmatian that she referred to as "her sister Bella." The giggles and laughter at her family's dinners came from Gwen's comic delivery of how her day had gone. Her silly bone was well-developed - if something caught her as funny, she could giggle for several minutes barely stopping for breath. Although no longer a baby, she loved (or at least tolerated) cuddles with her parents. Her favorite books included Fancy Nancy, Bad Dog Marley and Dinosaurumpus.

A cuddler at heart, she loved holding hands, giving hugs, being held and sitting in laps. She was a helpful little girl who enjoyed helping Linda her nanny pick up, setting the table for her mama, making lemonade and pizza and getting sugar for her daddy's coffee. She adored playing with her twin brothers, especially dressing them as princesses and calling them her little sisters. She took care of others and was considerate of others' feelings. She was a gentle soul who loved Cinderella and the Care Bears to the point that she named her brother Ryan "Too Loud Bear" and her brother Wade "Laughs a Lot Bear." Eating brought joy to her and she loved hummus, broccoli and ice cream. Her passion for eating cake was fun to watch.

Gwen, in her brief life, brought grace and love to all who will sorely miss her. She is survived by her parents and brothers Wade Matthew and Ryan Watson Van Kirk at home; grandparents Nancy Hottle of Phoenix, Susan Van Kirk and John and Pam Van Kirk of Monmouth, Ill.; aunts Karen Corrigan of Phoenix and Jennifer Van Kirk Agema of Peoria, Ill.; uncles Steve (Renee) Van Kirk of Phoenix, Chris (Margaret) Anderson of Naperville and Don (Danette) Anderson of Bakersfield, Calif.; cousins Mary Kate and Kelsey Corrigan of Phoenix; nine other cousins and her loving nanny since birth, Linda Devine.

A celebration of life will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday June 19, at Dayspring United Methodist Church, 1365 E. Elliot Road, Tempe. In loving memory of Gwen, donations may be made in her name to Childsplay Theatre Company, 900 S. Mitchell Drive, Tempe, AZ 85281 (http://childsplayaz.org/) or to her preschool, the Awakening Seed School, 6630 S. 40th St., Phoenix, AZ 85042 (http://www.awakeningseedschool.org/). Arrangements are entrusted to Tempe Mortuary.

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