Gaisman Park, one of the Bluff City's historic parks in the Berclair community, is in such disrepair there is a petition drive to push the city to clean it up.
The park is noted for the oldest public pool in East Memphis and as the site for the annual Fiesta Latino event.
Over the past few weeks there's been a lot of discussion, sometimes heated, over the role local government is suppose to assume in service to the people. Talk of closing fire stations and police precincts, and cutting public transportation for people whose livelihoods depend on it are important and viable issues.
But, so too is another assumed responsibility of local government to keep our city's parks safe and clean, no matter where they are located or who lives nearby them.
This is a parable of how a tragic accident and its confusing aftermath. Chris Collins, a crusading wheelchair-bound homeowner, sadly remind us of how local government too often seems indifferent to the voice and will of the people it's suppose to serve.
The centerpiece of our story is the deteriorating conditions of Gaisman Park where Collier, a concerned neighbor, gave us a tour of the broken tree limbs, scattered glass, potholes, and the graffiti scarred pavilion. Only the crowded playground at the park's entrance on Macon appears to have been relatively maintained this summer.
"When it's left like this people don't take pride in it," said Collins, who wants the park cleaned up. "So, it's easier for them to throw that McDonald's bag away or that soda bottle away and then just move on."
Collier has been wheeling across the street to the park to get petition signatures he hopes will be delivered to the city administration asking for a major cleanup operation. On Thursday, he got 30 people to ink their names in only about an hour.
With all the hubbub in the past few weeks over city budget cuts, Collier is still convinced there's enough money to improve conditions at Gaisman Park if the city would just listen.
"When you have the funds available, obviously they do, and then you don't do it right it sends a mixed message of what we expect," he said.
Which brings us to what happened to 9-year-old Ronnie Jones on July 23, 1954. Ronnie, one of a set of triplets, accidentally drowned in the nearby Wolf River not far from Gaisman Park. It was a tragedy so compelling it prompted city leaders at the time to raise funds to build the first pool in East Memphis, which was to be named after the victim in Gaisman Park.
Donations poured in from all over. But, when the pool opened the park commission declared the facility instead would be named Gaisman Park Pool. In an attempt to quell the ensuing public outrage, the commission erected a statue inside the pool to honor young Ronnie Jones.
However, although it said "Memorial to a Little Boy," Ronnie's name was nowhere to be found. Eventually, a plaque was slapped on the front of the pool's entrance where it sits today. If government had listened to the will of the people and done it right, so much anger and confusion could have been avoided; which, is exactly the point Collier is trying to make.
"These people are payroll and those mowers are running," he said. "I don't see other parks that are left in a condition like this. We're still viable citizens. We deserve to look as nice as Overton Park or any other park."
When it comes to government, it does seem the more things change, the more they remain the same.
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