Fred Nagle – Park 74

Here’s one from the GONE file.. Fred Nagle’s life and efforts stretched to many parts of Detroit – a boyhood home on High Street in Corktown; residence in the Madison – Lenox hotel; a boy’s club off Fenkell Avenue and  a long gone rec center and playground in the Elmwood neighborhood –  all of those haunts are gone.  The only thing left to his Detroit legacy is his burial marker in Mount Olivet Cemetery.  When I find it.. I will post a photo.

INVESTED IN DETROIT

Location:  Gone – Rec Center and playground formerly at Congress and Larned; Boys Boxing Club north of Focus Hope.

Fred George Nagle [1885- 1954] was a lifelong Detroiter and Corktown native who graced the halls of the Trinity School and Detroit College [now University of Detroit].  Nagel crafted a successful 25+ year real estate career with an office located in the Penobscot Building.  He managed his cadre of rentals, business locations and developed local strip shopping malls in the 1950’s.  The confirmed bachelor lived with his two sisters in the long gone Madison – Lenox Hotel off Harmonie Park.  

Fred Nagle
Fred Nagle was camera shy and a man of few photos. Photo: Detroit Parks and Recreation Annual Report for 1940.

Continue reading “Fred Nagle – Park 74”

Michael Herbert “Dad” Butler – Park 61

GRAND OLD MAN OF SPORTS

As far as I know, he’s the only man who gets his name listed in the telephone book as ‘Dad’.

 – George Stark, beloved Detroit News Columnist, 1948

Dad Butler’s incredible athletic ability set him ahead of the pack; a strong and homey nickname became his brand.  Butler simply didn’t want to be missed.  His response to Stark’s commentary:  “That’s to make it easy for the lads to find me.  They come from all over America, you know, and if they happened to be looking for me, I wouldn’t want them to miss the name, in all that fine print.” Continue reading “Michael Herbert “Dad” Butler – Park 61″

Ira Waite Jayne – Park 51

“Hell, I am not one of those starry eyed reformers, but I can get things done.” – Ira Waite Jayne

APPOINTMENT AFTER APPOINTMENT

In 1915, Ira Jayne became Detroit’s first recreation commissioner appointed by Mayor Oscar Marx.  Ira was an avid sportsman, earning varsity letters in track, baseball and football at the University of MI.  He also had a brief career as a pitcher in the Ohio Valley Baseball League.

Judge Jayne at the farm circa 1958. Courtesy of Toneron 2. I promise this image was not retouched.
Judge Jayne at the farm circa 1958. Image: Wikipedia Courtesy of Toneron 2. CC.

He got ‘things done’ during the 1910’s when funding recreation was wanted by the public, yet unpopular with politicians. With creative means, he built up recreation programs in schools, libraries, settlements and museums instead of trying to fund building construction and purchase land.  The Detroit City Council refused to give Jayne money toward existing playground development, so he roped off streets for boys and girls to play in.  Fierce yet justified behavior.

Recreation work was a good fit; however Jayne aspired to a higher public service.  An attorney by trade, he ran for a Wayne County Circuit court judge post and lost by recount to Harry Dingeman [his park is west side behind Chadsey HS] .  A few years later he would be appointed to the  Court Circuit bench by Governor Albert Sleeper and Ira Jayne’s recreation career was over.

FRIEND OF THE UNDERDOG

Some accounts of Judge Ira Jayne describe him as stern faced and domineering; however those who knew him best saw this facade as a tactic to keep lawyers from owning his courtroom.  In a nutshell, Judge Jayne was a friend of children, labor, the poor and those seeking divorce.

As a Detroit attorney, he represented the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  In 1910, he organized the Children’s Aid Society and continuing as its main attorney until 1915. Ultimately, Jayne helped to establish the Friend of the Court system.  He approved of liberal divorce laws that elevated women from lives of ‘indignity’ while still discouraging divorce.

oh gosh there's a post in the middle of this photo.
oh gosh there’s a post in the middle of this photo.  it must have been super cold that day.

Ira Jayne became Chief Judge in Detroit Circuit Court in 1929 where he made national news by streamlining a four year backlog on the docket with the use of visiting judges.  He served in this position for 27 years.  In 1951, he ended a 59 day strike by Detroit streetcar and bus drivers.  He upheld a law that made the strike illegal, next he held the City of Detroit responsible for the strike noting that the mayor’s representatives ignored an early willingness by labor to meet and work out bargaining issues.

Ira Waite Jayne was active on his farm in Fenton, MI until his death in 1961.  Jayne Road in Fenton is named for his family.  He was married and had three children.

Pretty and cold at Jayne Field.
Pretty and cold at Jayne Field.

Judge Jayne is memorialized with a substantial 47 acre park/field south of the Davison off Conant and Luce Streets.  It features a walking path, several baseball diamonds, fields for soccer / football and a windy 9 hole disc golf course that according to disc golfers in 2015 could use some love.  Lots of parking and a concessions stand.  Jayne Field sides to the Bernard Lasky Playground / Recreation Center which is still in great shape but now closed.  The grounds offer  basketball courts and ample parking.  Overall, these park areas are well groomed.  We’ll discuss Bernard Lasky shortly.

jayne_map_courtesy_of_google

 

Willis Watts O’Hair aka Mrs. Walter R. O’Hair  – Park #42

 

 “Life is so fast paced today that good use of leisure time is essential to mental health”

– Willis Watts O’Hair

IT’S GOOD TO HAVE A WOMAN IN CHARGE

Alice, Viola, Minerva, Willis… They all had distinctive names; they were / are distinctive women.  In this post, we are working through the women honored with a park.. there are a few more after this one.. Lotta, Delores, Clara, Erma.. brilliant names. andreag 

In 1940, the Detroit Department of Parks and Boulevards merged with the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation to reduce redundant efforts and financial waste.  A new commission was formed to oversee the new solo Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Mrs. Willis Watts O’Hair was appointed to this commission by Mayor Edward Jeffries; importantly, she was the first woman to become the president of a Detroit city commission.  Ultimately, she would serve four terms before her death in 1959.   

Willis Watts O'Hair  Photo:  1945 Annual Report
Willis Watts O’Hair
Photo: 1945 Annual Report

Under her guidance, Detroit parks experienced enormous growth through improved services.  New offerings included:  supervised tot lots, installation of shuffleboard courts, 9 artificial ice rinks [her idea], an indoor / outdoor city pool, competitive sports leagues for teens; horticulture activities, arts and crafts for all ages and on.

O’Hair was a booster for free band and symphony concerts arranged by Parks and Rec.  Her pet project was the installation of a putting green and golf driving range on Belle Isle.  The driving range was popular and financially successful; the commission opened another in Rouge Park.  During her tenure, Detroit rose from 7th place for recreation honors to 1st place nationally. 

Mrs. O’Hair always maintained that recreation centers should be within walking distance of residential areas.  “The greatest need is in the congested areas,” she said in 1953, then adding, “There is no greater thrill for me than to see youngsters enjoying themselves.”

Prior to the commission appointment, O’Hair raised funds for the support of the March of Dimes and founded the Women’s Auxiliary of the Volunteers of America.  She enjoyed bridge and the theater.  In 1943, she received an honorary degree in Sociology from the Detroit Institute of Technology.  Willis Watts was married to attorney Walter O’Hair.  They had 3 children.  Her son John Dennis Watts O’Hair became the Wayne County Prosecutor. 

Willis often said, “You get back what you give out” and she lived these words assisting others throughout her life.  Overall, Willis Watts O’Hair was a hands-on Parks and Recreation Commissioner taking interest in boxing matches and other sporting events, as well as trying some of the programs out herself.  Above all, she was always a lady.  

Pretty spring day at O’Hair. Sorry about the garbage in this picture.. it’s long gone now. The neighborhood association is super tight and works hard to keep O’Hair and the surrounding area tidy.

 

A big park for a woman who positively impacted Detroit.  Map via Google.
A big park for a woman who had a huge and positive impact on Detroiter’s with recreation. Map via Google.

 

Looking west toward the park and Pitcher Woods.
Looking west toward the park and Pitcher Woods.

O’Hair Park  located at Stahelin and Hessel Street is a staggering 78 acres which includes 20 acres of forest.  The land  was donated to the city by Joseph and Helen Holtzman in 1947.  Pitcher Woods honors Dr. Zina Pitcher, Mayor of Detroit 1840-1844.  Pitcher greatly influenced the State of Michigan to pass a law for the first free public school in Detroit and helped create the Medical Department at the University of Michigan.  The nearby Pitcher School is now closed.  The surrounding subdivision has a strong neighborhood association that works hard to keep this community safe and vibrant.

Detail on Pitcher Elementary School exterior.
Detail on Pitcher Elementary School exterior.

 

Frederick Yates – Park 36

Perseverance and Public Service

Frederick Yates was born on October 3, 1914 in Malvern, Arkansas.  At age 11, his family made the move to Detroit.  Yates graduated from Northwestern High School (1932) where he ran with the track team.  He earned a B.A. from West Virginia State College (1936); a law degree from the Detroit College of Law.  To pay for his education, he worked as a playground supervisor with the Detroit Department of Parks and Recreation, as well as working factory jobs at Ford Motor and US Rubber.  In 1941, he began his law practice and by 1948, he was appointed Wayne County Public Administrator.

A young Frederick Yates Photo: The Norwester 1932
A young Frederick Yates
Photo credit: The Norwester 1932.

Frederick Yates was a great study in determination and perseverance.  In 1961, he was the first black man to run for Mayor of the City of Detroit; he was unsuccessful this attempt.  He served two terms in State House of Representatives representing Wayne County’s 4th District from 1955 – 1962. Yates elected to the Wayne County Board of Commissioners in 1968  [after many unsuccessful attempts]  serving as the Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.   He was re-elected in 1970 and died after a long illness on October 9, 1971.  His body was on view at the Detroit City County Building for citizen mourners to pay their respects.

 

Frederick Yates lived on LaSalle St. in the Linwood neighborhood of Detroit.  He served as the President of the Linwood Community Organization as he was dedicated to revitalization of this area torn apart by the 1967 riots.  He was active in his church and regularly bowled in the Dexter Monday Night Bowling League.

 

 

Yates basketball court a dreary day.
Yates basketball court a dreary day.

The playground honoring him was dedicated on September 18, 1973 and is located at Linwood on Pingree Street.  The park is tidy but lacks signage and play equipment.  The basketball court and picnic shelter are really old.  Some of the fencing has been scrapped.  A positive stroke is that this play area has plenty of garbage cans, not joking.  It is currently maintained by a nearby church community group.  They indicate keeping the park mowed and clean is a true boost to the neighborhood however; the park is underutilized due to a high level of robbery in this area of Detroit.

Here’s hoping that 2015 will be a turning point year for Linwood – a ton of history in that neighborhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright Andrea Gallucci, 2014.

Leonard Kerschke – Park #5

Taken Too Soon

It was a shock to me when the doctors told me that I had six months to live.  My first thought was of my family and then the thought flashed through my mind of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane and what he said, Thy will be done, not mine”.    – Leonard Kerschke

March 1, 1957

Gentlemen – Leonard Kerschke, employed by the Department as a recreation instructor, has recently been advised by doctors that he suffering from cancer and has less than six months to live.

Mr. Kerschke, married and the father of two young children has been an efficient recreation instructor and a loyal employee and since his illness has displayed a remarkable spirit of cheerfulness in the face of overwhelming adversity.

The Department would like to recommend to your Honorable Body that the playlot located on the south side of Seven Mile Road between Chalmers and Celestine, which is the general neighborhood of his home, be named for Leonard Kerschke while he is yet alive, as a tribute to his admirable courage and spirit.

Respectfully submitted,

J. J. Considine

General  Superintendent

Lived and died on the eastside

Leonard was born on September 26, 1929.  He was a deep eastside Detroiter.  He attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Art; met his wife at Bethesda Missionary Temple; married at Immanuel Bible Church; began his career in the Detroit Parks and Recreation Dept. Shortly before Leonard passed, he began writing about his journey through cancer.  His article was picked up by the Associated Press; he received nationwide response and well wishes.  Leonard died on April 15, 1957 – he was 27 years old.

The small playlot bearing his name is still located on Seven Mile Road between Gratiot and Hayes Road.

Leonard F. Kerschke Playlot
Leonard F. Kerschke Playlot