New Kiwanis playground brings joy to new generations of children

New Kiwanis playground brings joy to new generations of children

When then-President Tom Glossop was contacted by Past President Lori Oldenettel in June of 2012, he didn’t immediately realize he and the Kiwanis Club of Jacksonville were about to embark on a three-year adventure.

“Lori had taken her son, Kellon, to the Kiwanis Big Toy in the Community Park and said she was surprised at how run down the equipment had become.” Glossop said.  “She said she would be willing to help repair the Big Toy and make it better and safer. 

“I took my two grandchildren to the Big Toy to play and I was also disappointed in its condition,” he said.  “I realized Kiwanis needed to address this situation.”  

On August 20-23, 2014, that dream came to fruition with the completion of the brand new Kiwanis playground located on the park’s west side across the road from the Sophie Leschin Building.  Kiwanis representatives worked with the city to insure the new facility would not impact the activities during the Grierson Days event or hinder cross country teams who regularly hold events on the grounds.  The decision to relocate from the former Big Toy site was made to avoid any potential conflict with the proposed FutureGen construction.

The organization’s largest project prior to this was building the original Big Toy at the northeast corner of the Community Park.  It was completed in 1983 under the leadership of Kiwanians Bill Deem and Dick Cody and cost the club over $25,000.00.

Glossop took his concerns to the Kiwanis Board of Directors in August, 2012,  Not only were there a lot of maintenance issues needing attention but some of the items would have to be removed due to the city’s updated liability insurance requirements.

Additional inspections were conducted with even more problems surfacing.  With the projected costs of repair and given the advancement in playground equipment technology, Kiwanis ultimately decided to build a brand new playground.

The club had received a bequest from the estate of Kiwanian Ralph Webber who passed away on January 22, 2010.  A committee was formed to determine how best to use those funds.  Chaired by Diana McCutcheon, the group considered a wide variety of proposals over the next 18 months.  It experienced difficulty in choosing a project because the most-favored ideas would have required considerable additional funding. 

It was Glossop who suggested the Webber funds be dedicated for this new playground project.  Kiwanis ramped up its fundraising activity to generate the balance of the $55,000.00 this project would require.   

Several vendors were contacted and a variety of options were explored.  Then Kiwanian Lisa Galloway, now the current club president, saw an article in the Kiwanis International Magazine.  It reported the organization had partnered with a company called Landscape Structures out of Delano, Minnesota, to build community playgrounds.

Working with the board, Galloway contacted Rick Bieterman, that supplier’s sales representative through a firm called NuToys in Naperville, Illinois.   

Another article in the Kiwanis publication announced a world-wide contest to win $25,000.00 in free playground equipment.  The Make a Difference Through Play competition ultimately involved 141 Kiwanis Clubs around the world.  The public was permitted to vote for its favorite playground project through the Facebook social media.  Ballots could be cast once every 24 hours.

The decision to go with the NuToys playground purchase was made after Galloway invited Bieterman to Jacksonville where he personally presented the proposal to the committee charged with selecting the project’s direction.  

Forrest Keaton, who succeeded Glossop as president in October of 2012, took charge of the club’s participation in the contest.  He vigorously urged Kiwanians, members of their families and community supporters to vote daily and to recruit their friends to do the same.

The contest began on May 6, 2013.  The top 10 projects would advance to the final round.  Within the first two days, the Jacksonville club made it to number 10 on the list of vote-getters.  Two weeks later it had amassed 1,931 votes and had moved to ninth place.

It advanced to eighth place on May 28 and continued to move up the ladder as voting continued into June.  When the competition concluded on June 8, Jacksonville had gathered 6,782 votes, finishing in a close second place.  A panel from Landscape Structures evaluated all 10 finalists and selected as the winner a special needs playground proposed by the Kiwanis of Iola, Kansas.  

Because of the Jacksonville club’s strong showing, it received a play station called a Flywheel Spinner for the playground valued at $2,500.00.

Over the next 12 months, Glossop, Keaton and Galloway led the fundraising efforts.  The drive culminated this past July with the Johnsonville Brat Wagon fundraiser which generated $10,000.00 for this project.

Bieterman came to Jacksonville on August 20 and coordinated the efforts to lay out the playground design at the Community Park site, dig the required holes and set the foundational posts.

Kiwanians and supporters from the city’s Parks and Lakes Department, the Heritage Cultural Museum and the Chamber’s Young Professionals Network came out on Friday and Saturday, August 22-23, to assemble and install the playground pieces.  That group of volunteers put in hundreds of man-hours in completing the project.

The completed playground includes two main stations, one geared for younger children ages two to five and the other for older children ages six to twelve.   Both will provide opportunities for young people to climb, swing, balance, crawl, slip and slide.  The site will also include several smaller devices and a rest area.  

Kiwanis Park

Kiwanis is planning an official dedication ceremony on September 15 at 6:00 p.m. at the facility.  The playground is scheduled to be opened to the public in early September.

The old Big Toy will be coming down in the months ahead but its salvageable components will be used to create a series of benches for use in other areas of the park.   

Galloway expressed her appreciation to the community for making the entire project possible.

“The people of Jacksonville have been so generous in their support of our playground fundraisers, “she said.  “Though the Kiwanis mission is to serve the children of our community and the world, we could never have completed this new recreation facility without the tremendous backing from our citizens.  We hope this playground will benefit our families for generations to come.”

Jacksonville Superintendent of Parks and Lakes Bruce Surratt, who supervised the Kiwanis playground construction effort, was also involved in building the original Big Toy.

“I’ve been around so long that I was here when we did the other one 30 years ago,” Surratt said.  “It was one of the main reasons I joined Kiwanis.  I had a lot of respect for all the money and hard work the members put in for the kids in Jacksonville.

“My kids played on the Big Toy for years and years,” Surratt said.  “Now we’ve built this new Kiwanis playground and our grandkids will play on it, too.”

Photo/Special to The Source Newspaper

Members of the Kiwanis Club work at installing the new playground equipment in Community Park.

Photo/Special to The Source Newspaper

The Kiwanis Club playground in Community Park was replaced using money from the recent fundraising activities. 

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