Hard Work, Dedication Keep Rector Park Beautiful

Thursday, June 27, 2013
Leland Blackshare, Gene Ellis and Charles Manchester take a quick break from dirty work at Memorial Park

The city of Rector is known for its lovely and well-maintained Memorial Park. Several generations of residents and visitors have enjoyed the scenic area, as lifetimes of memories have originated from the park and the various events held there over the years.

Though many are aware a great deal of work is required to maintain the park's beauty, few know the full scope of what has been required to create the family-friendly locale.

According to Parks and Recreation Commission member and local historian Leland Blackshare, the area which became Memorial Park was donated to the city by local businessman Alfred West around 1935. At the time, the site was covered with numerous varieties of trees and underbrush.

"You absolutely could not see from one side to the other, north and south," Blackshare said.

A group of town leaders, spearheaded by Lynn Gibbs, began plans to clear out the area for use as the home of the first Labor Day Picnic in 1941. Clifford Stallings, who worked for the Highway Department, was instrumental in the removal of the dense underbrush. The first picnic was held in the area where the bingo stand is now located near the front of the park.

As the project grew, more additions were made to the park. Stands were built to cater to visitors. These first structures, including a stage, were made entirely of wood. The stands featured sawdust floors, provided by Theron Wright's sawmill, and were decorated with crepe paper in red, white and blue. The park's concrete stage was built in 1949 by Bert E. Sigsby, Felix Hammelback and Rudy Morris.

Today, all of the stands at the park are concrete. Each features underground wiring, as well as coaxial cable, so volunteers don't have to miss the events taking place on stage. The coaxial cable allows the video cameras focused onstage to transmit what's being filmed directly to the workers.

The groundwork for what has become an integral part of the town and the lives of those who make their home in Rector was laid by forward-thinking residents, according to Blackshare.

"They were visionaries. They saw this area of land which wasn't being utilized, and they turned it into something which has become one of our town's best assets. The entire history of Rector would be completely different without that park."

Memorial Park is a thriving centerpiece for the city. Untold numbers of visitors have set foot upon its grass during more than 70 years of Labor Day Picnics and other gatherings.

For the past several years, a vital goal for the Parks and Recreation Commission has been reforestation. As old, unhealthy and storm-damaged trees have been lost, new trees were planted to ensure their future duties of both shade and beauty will continue. Since 1995, more than 80 new trees have been planted in the park.

Additions such as the equipment in the park's two playgrounds and the quarter-mile walking trail have been made possible by funding through state and federal grants. The walking trail was constructed in 2005 and has been one of the most popular additions. Blackshare noted the efforts of former city employee Betty Benson in writing grant applications in addition to the efforts of mayor David Freeman and former mayor Ron Kemp.

"We've been fortunate to receive the grants we have for a city our size," Blackshare said. "The majority of that is due to those people and the time they put in around the clock working to secure those funds."

Blackshare would like to remind visitors to the park to do their part in an effort to keep the surroundings clean. As littering is against the law, properly disposing of any trash brought into the park not only helps maintain the beauty so many have worked for, it also helps guests avoid possible citations.

The efforts which have brought Memorial Park to its current level are ongoing.

"Keeping our park beautiful is a never-ending process," Blackshare said. "There will always be a need for volunteers willing to put in all the work which is required. We encourage anyone who would like to offer their assistance in this endeavor to do so."

Last week, the park benefitted from a donation of dirt by local resident Anthony Rowton. Rowton donated approximately 30 yards of dirt, divided between the park and the athletic complex. The dirt has been used to fill in holes and areas of erosion at both sites. Blackshare and fellow longtime volunteer Charles Manchester were joined by Gene Ellis in leveling areas and filling in holes. Ellis operated a small tractor with a front-end scoop, allowing for the dirt to be placed and spread more easily.

"This is a tremendous help to the park," Blackshare said of Rowton's donation. "We are extremely grateful for Anthony Rowton's donation and for Gene Ellis' help in leveling out some of these areas."

Ellis was able to line the areas surrounding stands with fresh dirt, filling in years' worth of dips and holes with precision.

"I didn't do much," Ellis said. "I just helped with some tractor work. Leland and Charles are here about every day. They're the ones who really do a lot for this park."

Blackshare and Manchester are near-constant presences at the park in spring and summer. The duo is regularly ensuring the landscapes are maintained and the beautiful foliage watered and healthy. Their tireless efforts are done with a simple goal in mind.

"We have a beautiful park, but it takes a lot of work to keep it that way," Blackshare said.

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