Last Wednesday (August 30, 2000) I went to the small celebration that the director of Patton was having for the 50th anniversary. The event was to take place from 4:00 to 5:00 that evening. As I approached the Center marked with graffiti and some broken windows, there was a group of about 30 kids, ages of about 10 to 19, in front of the building who were waiting for the cake and ice cream the Center had provided for the occasion. I walked through the group and stopped to talk to a Rec staff member who told me that he had come from the east side with some kids who were there for another separate city-sponsored event being held at the same time.
As I walked in I was greeted as a hero and was asked to say some words
to the kids when the event started. At the end of the lobby by the locker
rooms, Mary was making party hats for the kids out of paper plates and
colored pens. Basketball was being played in the gym and the next
swimming session hadn't started yet. It was still as dark as I remembered it, but there was a buzz of activity going on that I remembered from when I would be going in or coming out of practice.
Karen, the director, had told me how she would come over to the park to play softball and other activities when she was growing up and that she eventually joined the Recreation Department as a staff worker being sent to St. Hedwig and Patton on assignment. Eventually she was given the directorship at Patton, even though she accepted reluctantly.
She seemed to know the kids by name, and I am sure that is because these were regulars from the neighborhood who used the center on a daily basis. She talked about how her staff was a mix of those who just had it as a job and and those who grew up at the Center and returned to become involved with running activities and teams as coaches and leaders. Since the swimming session hadn't started I didn't talk to the guards yet. I did manage to sneak a quick peek at the pool to get my chlorine fix for the day and come home to where it all started. It all came back to me as I stared at the water, with the sound of the water slowly running over the flush deck. I thought about the moments as a guard between sessions when you had that sound to help you refocus before the next group of swimmers came in.
When it was finally time, we went out to the front of the building and Karen mentioned how the building was 50 years old and said a few things about the activities that were going on now. She then introduced me as a former Tigershark and asked me to say a few words.
I stepped up in front of the ragtag little crowd to first stare up at the building and draw upon my fondest memories. I then started to speak of what Patton meant to me and how I had been there even before the building was built, spending time with my big brother at the wading pool that was just in back of the parking lot at the time.
I talked about the recreation dances that were held, the craft classes and the little league teams with Mark and Ricky. It was here that I had to stop to get my composure to continue. I guess I am a little too sentimental about things like this, as demonstrated at the reunion as well. I then mentioned the staff that was there for them, and that it was like that for me too - a second home. I talked to them about appreciating what they had and how the spirit lived on in that old building and that it wasn't lost. I let them know that through those experiences I continued to swim and to this day am ever grateful for the places it allowed me to visit, from Birmingham, Michigan, to Casablanca, Morocco. I asked them to also give back whatever they gained to others so that the spirit would continue, then thanked them for letting me be part of this small special occasion.
We then sang Happy Birthday to Patton and snapped a few pictures. I'll get some if I can. I went in and helped serve the cake and ice cream to the kids and then headed to the pool. Gratitude for my representation of the Tigersharks was expressed over and over again and how much it meant to Karen and Mary that I would come down.
I met the lifeguard that Karen said ran a small team of 5 kids. Turns out that he swam for Western, as did the other guard. He was a breaststroker that swam for Palko and said he went 1:04. I had no reason not to believe him. I encouraged him to keep up the good work with the kids and told him that when I am able I will come down and work out either during lunch or after work. He verified that John Bell comes down every once in a while to work out too.
I asked about the program, and he was a bit bitter about the city's priorities. To him it seemed that the money was going to eastside recreation centers and that as the windows would be broken out they only replaced them with plywood. In talking to Mary and Karen there seems to be an indication that there will be money available for some building fix-up, but I am not sure what that means.
When I left, I feel that I left a little of me and a little of the Spirit
of Patton there. And if I touched one kindling heart to stay on the right
path and to give back, then that would be worth all of it.
I can't tell you what a thrill it was to have you visit Patton last week. I really wanted to do the party up big, but it was just right: serving the kids that come to swim and play. It was unexpected for them and an opportunity for us to let them know how long Patton has been there.
What was so touching for us is that you not only took the time to come out, but you were so excited, so really soulfull. Karen and I talked and it made her feel good about her career choice.
Karen doesn't think so, but she has an extraordinary heart. When kids raise their card markings she has taken them to Red Lobster to celebrate. When you tell her what a nice thing she's done, she just fluffs it off.
I have pictures to send you, Dennis. I don't know how to e-mail (get them out of the file and into here), but if you send me your address I'll send them to you. (I've been looking for your card and can't find it.)
Take care and thank you for keeping Southwest in your heart.