[UPDATED with Million-Dollar Baby:] Coastal Walk in Memory of Maddie James--a Little Girl Who Loved the Ocean

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Maddie James, 2005-2011.
UPDATE, JUNE 13, 2:04 P.M.: There were smiles, speeches and applause--and more than a few tears among the 100 invited guests.

They were at a private dedication ceremony Saturday at Dana Point's Ocean Institute, on what would have been Maddie James's sixth birthday. The ceremony followed a three-month campaign to raise $1 million to name a soon-to-be-built Seaside Learning Center after her. There was an outpouring of support from across the U.S., with more than 6,000 donations and some 35 individual fund-raising events.

In January, doctors diagnosed the kindergartner with an aggressive and inoperable brain tumor and she died in March. Shortly before her death, her parents, Kajsa and Collie James, started the Maddie James Foundation to memorialize their only child's love of the sea and the Ocean Institute.

The learning center will feature a 300-foot Science Landing with aquariums for animals collected by students, opportunities to drive an underwater remote-controlled vehicle and a grow-out pen for white sea bass. There will also be a 100-foot Maritime History Pier with davits to help raise and lower a long boat, a boom crane for moving heavy cargo, a capstan, a yard and a sail.

Kajsa James said, "Through the learning center, thousands of children will have the opportunity to see the ocean through Maddie's eyes--with wonder, love and respect."

During the ceremony, the Jameses filled a glass carafe from the ocean. Ocean Institute president Dan Stetson, explained, "There is an age-old tradition of christening a vessel with wine or champagne for good luck. Using this symbolism, Kajsa and Collie are drawing water from the harbor that they will use to christen the Maddie James Seaside Learning Center at our grand opening later this year."

It was a bittersweet day for the Jameses. Wayne Redfield, chairman of the institute's board of directors, led the guests in an impromptu, emotional chorus of "Happy Birthday" to Maddie. Holding back tears, Collie James said, "Happy birthday, sweet girl. Mommy and Daddy love you with all our hearts and all our souls. We hope you like your present."

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