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Tribute to Our Town

IMG_1292 (1)I love living in Cookeville. Love the small town atmosphere. The downtown places for children to play and the chance meetings with friends at the Heart of the City Playground and Dogwood Park. One morning last week I went with Daughter and her children to play, and I ran into three friends and their grandchildren. Friends with whom I enjoyed visiting and I loved seeing their grandchildren. But if weren’t for places for children to play, we wouldn’t have gotten together.

There was no time I appreciated our town more than when Son and family visited recently. What do you do with three young children, ages 1, 3, and 5, after they’ve been strapped in car seats for 2 ½ hours while riding from their other grandparents’ home? Take them to the playground. It was hot that late Sunday afternoon and many families had the same idea. Let kids play somewhere safe and fun and free.

A child swung in almost every swing. The four seats on the seesaw were filled. Children darted from a climbing tripod to the Tennessee Tech tower to the Burgess Falls climbing wall. My eight Grands, including the five who live here and are ages 2-11, roamed from one activity to another and then the two youngest rested in their parents’ laps. The others congregated on the merry-go-round. Around and around they went. Some pushing, some hanging by legs upside down, some sitting, some standing. All laughing and smiling. There was room for them and others. We adults watched and my heart swelled with pride as I remembered that about a year ago many people spent days and days and days from sunrise to past sunset, often in pouring rain, to build Heart of the City Playground.

Two days later, I convinced my Grands’ parents to get everyone ready for a family picture at 9:30 a.m. (That’s a whole long story!) As soon as the photographer put his camera down, my 11-year-old Grand said, “Okay, Gran. Remember you promised a treat after the picture?” So everyone put on play clothes, loaded in two vans, and off we went to eat ice cream. Where do you take eight kids who have licked ice cream cones with their tongues and noses and the ice cream melted and dripped down their arms and two Grands dropped their cones onto their laps? To Dogwood Park Fountain.

“Does this run all the time?” Son asked. Everyday, weather permitting, from 6 a.m.-10 p.m. “It’s free?” Yes. “We didn’t have anything like this when I was a kid.” Three decades ago.

My Grands stood under the giant waterfalls. Some with heads tilted face up, one pretending to wash her hair, one with hands reaching for the sky, another dancing. Or maybe he was swinging his arms and kicking his feet in pure joy and freedom. They all ran zigzag among the many fountains spewing from the concrete ground. They stood over fountains to shower from feet to head and they tried to stop the water flow with their hands and they karate-chopped forceful streams. Three Grands held hands to form a circle and skipped around a spewing fountain.

The toddlers wore out quickly and nestled with their mothers and me on park benches. The older Grands chased each other along the sidewalks and through the grass. I wondered if those who planned Dogwood Park knew how much fun children could have on a muggy August morning.

Cookeville. I’m ever so thankful to live here.







Thank You, Playground Leaders!

Screen Shot 2016-03-24 at 7.37.21 AMBy now, everyone in Cookeville knows the Heart of the City Playground officially opened this month. But my Grands and many other children have run, climbed, jumped, and swung since December. Cookeville’s 12,000 square foot playground is unique in design and is accessible for all children – those who run on two legs and those who roll a wheelchair.

As I watched and listened during the Sunday afternoon Grand Opening ceremony, I felt a huge sense of pride. And not just for the playground. I’m most proud of the mothers who led this effort. The mothers of babies and toddlers and middle school age children. The mothers had said to each other that they wished for a place to get together with their children. A convenient place where their children could play safely and they could visit with each other. A place where all children could play.

One of these mothers invited me to a playground organizational meeting at city hall almost two years ago. I was the only gray haired person there – all others were young enough to be my children and younger. The meeting was chaotic and the enthusiasm on fire. I left knowing that these young parents would build a playground no matter what and that I’d met the future of Cookeville. During the past two years, I crossed paths with a few of these leaders.

Having no fundraising experience didn’t stop Elizabeth from volunteering to be in charge of raising almost $500,000. She and her committee hosted many events, everything from a gala where guests wore black ties and tiaras to Touch-a-Truck where children climbed on tractors and fire engines. They went to businesses and wrote letters and made phone calls to secure sponsors. And Elizabeth hugged and thanked a kid who gave $10, as if that was all the money needed.

Virginia captained the Design and Special Features committee. She and her committee made sure all the special Cookeville designs were authentic. Derryberry Hall, the Depot, Burgess Falls, and more. She moved those cut out pieces from under a tent during rain to a church basement or to anywhere she could find to keep the designs dry during the week long rainy build week. Virginia was the paint lady and she ensured that every board and screw top and bird and waterfall were painted the right color.

Ashley and Kelly, with smiles and encouragement and hard work, spearheaded as general coordinators. They complemented each other with their divided tasks. They led by example and never missed a chance to give credit to others. To Laura who organized 2,000 build volunteers and Alejandra who chaired a committee to babysit for the build volunteers’ children. Hannah made sure water, snacks, and meals were provided for workers. Ashley and Kelly sent an email to invite all volunteers to the Grand Opening. The invitation began with “YOU ALL SHOULD BE SO PROUD! WE DID IT! A lot of sweat, tears (and some blood!)… but it’s finished and you had a part in leaving a LEGACY for the children of this community for years to come!”


I marvel at the energy of these young mothers. Their dedication. Their perseverance. Their determination. As I watched them work together, I realized that Cookeville is in good hands. My generation appreciates this younger generation.

Congratulations to Ashley and Kelly and all the committee captains. I hope you talk and laugh together often as you watch your children play at the Heart of the City Playground.

Playground Build Goes On

Screen Shot 2015-10-05 at 9.14.01 AMBecause it rained for five straight days last week, the building of the Heart of the City Playground in Dogwood Park was slowed, but never stopped. Hundreds of volunteers did their best. Wet. Muddy. Tired. Dirty. They kept working and it wasn’t their fault, but the playground wasn’t completed by Sunday night as scheduled. So it’ll be finished this weekend: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

One man was amazed by what happened last week. Doug was the lead contractor from the playground construction company, Leathers and Associates. Sunday afternoon when I talked with him, he said, “This community did great. People hung in and persevered. Like that first afternoon when rain poured down and we started setting poles, it’s atypical to have people who stay. They didn’t leave. And others came. ”

Doug has led many playground-building projects throughout the United States and in foreign countries. I asked, “So have you encountered weather like this during other builds?”

“Yes, and I’ve been in places when it got down to six people. Not here. People stayed and more came. All week. It’s an incredible community! You should be proud. I am,” Doug said.

“And I’m really proud of the young people who are the leaders this project,” I said.

“You should be. Great young leaders.”

Virginia Kirby is one of those leaders, captain of the art committee, which is responsible for all the decorative designs to be attached to the playground equipment. Those volunteers have worked outside under tents and inside buildings, as space permitted. Like others, who worked 12-14 hour days, Virginia was exhausted, but she met a woman who kept her going.

Virginia posted her story on Facebook and allowed me to share it. “Up for the sixth day of the hardest week of my life. I’m about to put on overalls that are still damp from yesterday. My feet are throbbing. It would be so easy to go back to bed and just say that I’ve given enough of myself already. But I met a mother in the dinner line. She was muddy up to her thighs, having spent hours outside on the worksite. I felt guilty that I was clean and explained how art had to move inside so the paint would dry. She said she could only work one shift because it was hard to find a babysitter. She explained that her four-year-old son has seizures, uses a wheelchair, and had recent surgery. This playground will be the first place for him to really play. She wanted to do anything she could to help, even move mud by the shovelful from one place to another in the pouring rain. That way she could be part of giving her son a playground he can use.

“So, if you’re wondering why we are out in the very cold rain for fourteen hours each day; why we don’t just give up and say it’s not worth being that uncomfortable–that’s why. This playground means a lot to me, but it will mean everything to some families.”

Round two of playground building is Friday, October 9, 5:30 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. Saturday 8:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. and Sunday 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Kelly Swallows, one of the playground co-chairman, said, “We especially need strong arms and skilled laborers. And other workers, too. If you can come out, please do!”

I’m not surprised that work never stopped. I’m proud of the volunteers who worked one four-hour shift and those who worked day after day. And I’m sure workers will show up this weekend. Cookeville is an incredible community.

Showing a Lot of Heart for the Playground

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.05.04 PMAnd the rain came down. That could sum up the experiences of the volunteers who’ve been building the Heart of the City Playground in Dogwood Park this week. But it doesn’t.

Tuesday was the first building day and Husband and I were there. Decked out in work clothes and boots, caps, and rain jackets, we signed in at 7:45 a.m. We were welcomed, given a nametag, and immediately assigned to a crew. Our captain explained our first task. “We’re gonna’ cut some boards. So we need planks carried and one person on the circular saw.”

Screen Shot 2015-10-04 at 3.10.32 PM

In trying to avoid being hit by long recycled plastic planks that Husband and others carried, I found myself standing opposite a man named Joey who stood in front of the saw. I side-stepped to move away from the saw. “Don’t leave,” Joey said. “Just step a few feet that way,” he nodded his head to show me where to stand. “You can double check my measurements and count the boards. I’ll cut. You count.” So I counted and stacked boards. Twenty, 48”. Sixteen, 12”. Thirty-six, 33”. And the list went on.

Those cut boards were screwed together to form rectangular boxes. Ah, sandboxes, I thought. But they weren’t. This crew built five huge platform ladder steps that children will climb to get to the top of something. I don’t know what. It’ll be something fun to play on. These steps were built by a group of people who didn’t know each other and who rubbed shoulders as they worked. When I wasn’t stacking short boards or moving them from one place to another, I shoveled sawdust from the work areas and picked up wood scraps and trash. At the art tent, I wiped dust off of decorative cut shapes so they could be painted.

Neither Husband nor I worked in the mud. But my oldest Grand, age 10, and his dad did. “We had a great time in the mud and got wet to the bone,” Son-in-Law said.

Other volunteers summed up their experiences. “It’s tiring and very gratifying,” said Greg.

Serina said, “Working with all the wonderful people on this job reinforces why I love Cookeville.”

Casey said, “It’s been a blessing. It’s been humbling. It’s been life changing.”

Kimberly had one word, “Rewarding.”

Bill, a project leader from the playground company, Leathers & Associates, said, “People are here and smiling and it’s getting done.”

Ashley, one of the two co-chairmen who has dedicated more than a year to the playground, said, “It’s been challenging, but I know the good Lord above is with us every step of the way. If volunteers keep showing up in these less than favorable conditions with smiles on their faces, there’s no doubt we will get this playground built by Sunday evening!”

There’s a job for everyone. Just show up. If you want to be a part of something good, a part of something that brings people together, a part of something that makes life better.

Wear your work shoes. I’ll see you there.