Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Community treasure

The long plastic tube stood in the corner of our garage so long that it seemed part of the house — you know, like the water heater.

Then one day the daughters decided they needed to store their stuff while they moved overseas. We had to make room.

"What is this thing?'' I asked the better half.

"It's a time capsule,'' she said. "We just never got around the burying it.''

One night last week, I wrestled the top off the tube and emptied its contents on the floor. Mainly it was stuff kids had signed, T-shirts from various Pasco elementary schools, copies of the St. Petersburg Times from November 1990, the "before'' snapshots of a rather simple playground in New Port Richey's Sims Park.

The tube didn't offer up any treasure — unless, of course, you count memories.

I've lived in these parts for more than 30 years, and I can assure you there has never been a more positive, family-friendly five days than Nov. 14-18, 1990 at Sims Park. More than 3,500 volunteers swarmed like ants from sunrise to night, hauling and sawing lumber, digging holes for posts, sanding, drilling and hammering in what was best described as an old-fashioned barn-raising.

And when they were done, a 12,000-square-foot wooden playground stood among the giant oaks and palms, replacing rusted swings and monkey bars. Volunteers had given the children of west Pasco a place where their imagination could run wild, towers and mazes and swings and bridges.

On the final day, children squealed with delight as they ran onto the planks. Parents hugged and cried with joy. If you were there, you remember. (Just wish I could remember how the time capsule wound up in my garage.)

Roxann Mayros was there — from the beginning. She had read my columns gushing about these wooden playgrounds in other communities and wondering why we couldn't build something similar. She volunteered the 20 working mothers who made up the West Pasco Junior Woman's Club to ramrod the project. When these persuasive women asked for money or materials, donations flowed like water. It helped that then-Mayor Peter Altman pushed for downtown development and saw the playground as a magnet to attract families. He did more than that — he got his hands dirty.

Mayros, now the chief executive for VisionServe Alliance, a national advocacy organization for the sight impaired, drove by the playground last week. She lives most of the year in St. Louis but returns regularly to be with family.

"Twenty years!'' she exclaimed. "How did that happen?''

She recalled the penny drive that involved every elementary child in West Pasco, and how many of them worked directly with consultants from Robert Leathers Associates to design the playground.

"The week when we actually built the playground was beautiful,'' Mayros recalled. "The whole community got involved, even unlikely partners like weekend jail inmates who worked alongside prosecuting attorneys. Sertoma fed three meals a day to hundreds of people. Total strangers read about the project and dropped off extension cords, rakes, whatever. Kids soaped screws and sanded blocks of wood while their parents worked. It was just amazing.''

Becky Mitchell, who like Mayros had young children and volunteered with the Junior Woman's Club, agreed. "I had goosebumps the whole time,'' she said last week. "To this day, I have never forgotten that week. The whole experience was just so fulfilling and rewarding.''

Twenty years is a long time for a wooden structure in the Florida heat and humidity, and the playground is showing its age in places. The city's parks director, Elaine Smith, said an advisory committee has been reviewing the playground and that she will try to include money in the budget next year to build a new one on the same site.

Like the playground, much of West Pasco is showing wear and tear. Half-finished buildings mar the landscape, a reflection of a brutal economic collapse in an area that once held such promise.

Will it come back? Will downtown New Port Richey ever feel the kind of buzz like those five November days 20 years ago?

A new generation may get the opportunity to make it happen again.

>>On the web

Playground legend

Robert Leathers, the architect from Ithaca, N.Y., dubbed the Johnny Appleseed of these community playgrounds, has turned the company over to his son. You can see some examples of their work at www.leathersassociates.com.

Community treasure 11/20/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 23, 2010 1:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Peter Budaj, Lightning lose to Devils in shootout; Nikita Kucherov scores

    Lightning Strikes

    NEWARK, N.J. — For Peter Budaj, Tuesday's season debut had a shaky start.

    The Lightning’s Vladislav Namestnikov, right, battles Damon Severson for the puck.
  2. Mother's testimony about toddler's death brings judge to tears

    Criminal

    TAMPA — Nayashia Williams woke up early on May 7, 2014, to the sound of her daughter calling for her. It was the last time the young mother's mornings would begin with a summons from Myla Presley, who couldn't yet climb over the mesh fencing around the playpen she used as a bed.

    Deandre Gilmore looks towards the gallery Tuesday in a Tampa courtroom. Gilmore is accused of killing the 19 month-old daughter of his girlfriend in 2014. He said the child fell while he was giving her a bath. [CHRIS URSO   |   Times]
  3. Speakers: Getting tough can't be only response to teen car thefts

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — Bob Dillinger remembers coming to Pinellas County as a legal intern in 1975. There were five major poverty zones in St. Petersburg.

    Wengay Newton, Florida House of Representatives (in front, in center), talks as a panelist to a packed room during a community forum on "Reclaiming our Youth: Is Juvenile Justice a Reality?" at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson Museum in St. Petersburg Wednesday evening (10/17/17). The event was presented by the Fred G. Minnis, Sr. Bar Association. Community leaders discussed the ongoing auto theft epidemic among Pinellas youth.
  4. Internal White House documents allege manufacturing decline increases abortions, infertility and spousal abuse

    Politics

    White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter told the …

  5. Black entrepreneur says city stiffing him on project after he endorsed Rick Baker

    News

    ST. PETERSBURG — A prominent African-American resident says his endorsement of mayoral candidate Rick Baker has led city officials to freeze him out of a major construction project along the historic "Deuces" stretch of 22nd Street S.