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FOUNDING OF MEMORIAL PARK IN NASHVILLE

Article furnished by Wanda Groennert that
appeared in the July 23, 2008 issue of
Nashville News, Nashville, Illinois
Shown here with permission

      Editor's note: The late Eddie Kemper, former sports editor of The Nashville News, penned this history of the founding of Memorial Park in his Kemper's Korner column. Wanda Groennert brought in a copy for publication.
      "Many people have moved in and out of town since this all happened, and since sports had been a big deal in my life and all kids born and raised here, they should know there were special people who worked together and made it all happen," Wanda said. "It's a wonderful story, and if not for Eddie's talent, we wouldn't have this history."
      The column from 1979 follows:

 

FOUNDING OF MEMORIAL PARK IN NASHVILLE

      A three-piece band consisting of "Bus," "Pete" and "Momma" on the back of a flat bed truck and an energetic Lions Club; that's how Memorial Park in Nashville was born. It was in 1939 when the Lions club (just a baby herself, one year of age) dedicated the land that so many of us now enjoy.

      But back to Bus, Pete and Momma. Before that trio of musicians did their thing for the park there was some important ground work laid. Nashville Lions Club had its birth in 1938. The first president, Ed Schmitt, was approached by the late Ted May concerning a parcel of land (47 acres) that May, a real estate broker, was attempting to sell. The plot, now the park, was the estate of John Huegely. May told the Lions that for $4,700 ($100 an acre) the land could be theirs. He suggested a park.

      Quickly the 26 members said yes. And that brought the band into the picture. The Lions scheduled a One-Day Drive for funds from the businessmen of Nashville. A truck was hired and Bus Wilson, Pete Hassler and Momma Lincoln were put on the truck with their clarinet, baritone and drums respectively to play tunes for those who donated.

      Both Nashville papers, the News and Journal, explained the purpose of the bandwagon. The idea: Drive up to a business house; if they contributed to the drive the band played; if they didn't drive to the next one. The truck was hired, but the trio of music makers donated their talents and time. All three have passed to eternal home now.

      How much did that drive net? Remember, dollars came much harder to everyone in 1939. When the day ended the "Loot" was counted -- $1,500 was put on the $4,700 bill for the park ground.

      As the truck and trio made its way it stopped at Jule Frederking's Tavern. A man drinking at the bar inquired what was going on and when informed he said, "Here's $10, have them play a tune for me." He enjoyed it so much that he said, "Do it again and I'll give you another $10," and they did.

      Some special efforts were made by Lion members J. K. Williamson, Paul Johnson, Dr. E. H. Reinhardt, Leslie Paul, Joe Maxwell and Louis "Spike" Vogelpohl.

      With a $3,200 debt looking at them the Lions "fired up" and every year had a Labor Day celebration in the park with the net profit aimed at relieving the debt.

      Little by little they whittled away and finally paid it in full.

      But it soon became evident that there was no money to develop the park; no funds for roads, no picnic shelter or tables, or playground equipment, or restrooms or water or tennis courts or lights for ball diamonds.

      The park had been planned by the University of Illinois and where the big lighted diamond stands now - at the start it was one large corn field. That place was chosen for the diamond because it offered, at the time, some shade.

      The Lions put together an effort to have the acreage incorporated into a tax district. The referendum was passed and the Nashville Lions donated 41 acres (free) to the newly formed park district; that came in 1949. The next year taxpayers for the first time laid out 10c per $100 assessed valuation for the park.

      Five years passed, and in 1954 a swimming pool was dedicated.

      A stone monument in the park notes the Lions Club achievement June 23, 1939. That stone was erected by the late Oren Brandis.

      This Korner has had untold fun and thrills in the park for years. I believe I owe a debt and a thank you to the Lions and that band of 1939 - George "Bus" Wilson, Julius "Pete" Hassler and Ed "Momma" Lincoln.

      It had not been easy to put the pieces in the park picture. If, and there is a good chance, this Korner has overlooked some hard worker, I beg their forgiveness. It is not intentional.

      They didn't happen by chance or suddenly appear overnight. Memorial Park's big lighted ball field came into existence on June 11, 1961. The story needs retelling, because of the ever-changing populace in Nashville and surrounding areas.

      When the lights flashed on that Friday it was one of Nashville's finest hours, and the man behind it all watched his grandsons play on that little lighted diamond.

      The man would deny that the big lights were his doings, but they were.

      Early in February on a cold night our dreamer and this Korner went to Jack Lane's and solicited his ideas about the lights. Lane was encouraging.

      The next stop: President of the Park Board, Judge Francis Maxwell. The stage was set, and the plan was beginning to unfold. However, there were no dollar figures evident.

      Meanwhile Mr. Dreamer was building enthusiasm for his dream. A letter was sent to General Electric in St. Louis asking for plans and prices.

      When the return letter came one of fainter heart would have stopped dreaming and struck a match to the plans. Why? $18,000 estimated cost.

      Ignoring the advice of several VIP's, Mr. Idea began searching for better dollar signs. "I've got too much Jew in me to leap at a first figure," was his comment.

      Our man of the year in Nashville of 1961 had some friends at Illinois Power in Mt. Vernon, R. B. Smith, operating superintendent, and Jim Malone, the engineer, did a job; a cost-cutting one. The price dropped to $7,000 (there is a lesson for all of us in Our Man's persistence and in not taking the first price). Dreamer had what he wanted; his next stop, the City of Nashville, Mayor and Council.

      On a Friday in April at his business, a large group of light enthusiasts gathered. In force the 30 march to City Hall and the Council Meeting. He told Mayor J. K. Williamson and the Aldermen of the plans in detail. He asked that the city put forth $3,500, half of the cost.

      Questions came. Can the job be done for $7,000? Will Illinois Power set the poles as he said they would do?

      Mr. Man, the Mayor and Bill Richards made a trip to Mt. Vernon. The Illinois Power executive substantiated all the ideas that Our Man had given the Council. Without a descending vote the Council ordered the treasurer to write a check for $3,500. Half done.

      The Park Board was next. Would they match the half loaf so it would become a full one? No flattery, no powerful speechmaking, just Our Man driving for a dream. The board flashed the green light. The money obstacle had been cleared. But a legitimate question surfaced. A member of the board said, "What if it takes more that $7,000? Most of the time the estimate doesn't come right to the dollar." Our Man, who always had the insight to overcome obstacles, had the right answer. "Fellows, if it takes more we will get it, and rest assured, we won't come back to you for one penny more."

      Soon Our Man was delegating responsibility. Into the picture came Bob Miller. He and Bill Richards were to play leading roles in the work end; when actions spoke louder than words.

      The electrical "juice" who put the big lights together was Howard Reves. He knew what to do, and more importantly, did it. But when you talked to Howard he consistently downplays his role. "It was the best cooperative sports effort in our town. Just try to show me anything close to it."

      It doesn't hurt to list some of the names and their work. After all unawareness is a weakness. The Korner doesn't want you to be unaware. Indifference is a sickness. The Korner cannot help it if you are indifferent. That's your problem.

      With the go ahead and the money, Reves became busier than a service station on the East Coast. His tasks were hundredfold.

      Bill Richards had the task of acquiring bulbs, wires and the "business" end at the top of the poles.

      Arrangements were made for the selling of the poles. Once again the juice belonged to Howard. The poles came and Howard had Glen Snead, Sr., donate his trucks and labor to unload them.

      Now the real work. Evening after evening, hour after hour the men gathered at the park. Bob Miller, Sr., was there with his tools and trucks. Two fellows who have passed to the Great Ball Diamond in the sky hit it hard for the lights - Butch Wessel and Dude Clark. The list of workers included Oscar Lussenheide, Norman and Lawrence Moeller, Al Brammeier and many others.

      A key man in the project was Charles Swain. He gave the right kind of advice and how many hours of work the good Lord only knows. Swain had to have the permission from his employer and union before he could work. Did he get it? Yes! Reves went to Mt. Vernon, and when Howard puts the juice into his words you don't say no.

      But a couple problems arose - a wire shortage and $700 short. Reves, Miller and Richards went searching for the wire. Finally Bill got the job done. The money? And it was the last obstacle in the path. Howard went to a local bank. He, along with fellows like Vic Forys, whose help in the project can't be measured, signed a note for a loan. The dream was almost real.

      On Saturday morning, Charlie Swain, Bob Miller, Sr., and Paul Wilkey, Sr., climbed those poles and did the connecting.

      Through it all Illinois Power played some big aces. They were Jim Malone, Ernie Floro, Laylem Richardson, Frog Williamson and Frank Sheldon. Through Reves' effort a picnic was held for the men and their families. Fried chicken and plenty of liquor to quench the thirst. Reves knew how to play his cards and plenty of gratefulness flowed from Howard and he did it with more than words.

      On Friday in June of 1961 Charlie Swain pushed in the switch and the $7,700 and the toil and sweat and the months of planning flashed into view before a standing room only crowd at the park.

      It needs to be said again, Reves is not an "I" or "me" man. He was reluctant to be set on a pedestal as a hero. Over and over he gave credit to those around him. He would say, "Don't forget Vic, Bob, Charlie, Francis, Bill, Jack, Paul, Frog, Jim, R.B." As Winston Churchill said, "so many owe so much to so few." The people of today and yesterday who enjoy the big lights in any way fall into that category of "so many."
 


 
 
Harrl Beatty Photograph Collection
Courtesy of Larry & Jo House
Park Photos

 
Lion's Park marker
Lion's Park
Established June 23, 1939 by
The Nashville Lion's Club

Liberty
Intelligence
Our
Nation's
Safety

 
 
Park Ball Field 1
Park Ball Field 1
   
Park Ball Field 2
Park Ball Field 2
 
Park Picnic Area
Park Picnic Area
   
Park Ball Field Benches
Park Picnic Area Benches
   
Picnic at Park
Picnic at Park
 
Park Swimming Pool
Park Swimming Pool
 
 
Train Trestle at Park
Train Trestle at Park
This always was a play area for children.

 

 

 
Memorial Park Swimming Pool
1954
Nashville's Swimming Pool 1954
Photograph courtesy of Larry House
 
1955
Nashville's Lifesaving Class in 1955
A life-saving class at the new Nashville Memorial Park Swimming Pool, in the summer of 1955.
Photograph courtesy of Larry House
 
Front row :
Carolyn Niehaus, Sandy Driskill, Marilyn Meinert, Merlyn Niehaus, Susan Small, unknown, unknown, Jay Zapp, Jeff Shirley,
Bill Meyer, Jerry Zapp, Myrtle Spencer (assistant swimming instructor) and Carol Reinhardt (swimming instructor).
Back row: :
Dennis Luessenheide, Ross Jones and Larry House. Jerry Gutzler is reaching for Morris Finke, who is in the water.
 
1955
Nashville's Queen Contest in 1956
First Washington County Queen Contest at the Nashville Memorial Park Pool - 1956.
Photograph courtesy of Larry House
 
Left to Right :
Shirley Brinkman, Martha Haier, Hazel Haun, Dorothy Krueger, LaVerne Lance, Mary Meyer,
LaVerne Kitowski (2nd runner-up), Martha Vaughn (queen), Patricia Borowiak (1st runner-up),
Mary Louise Meyer, Belly Ostendorf, Emma Lou Setzekorn, Darlene Shock, June Torricelli, and Marjorie Tubbs.
 

 

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