Granny's Notes - the writing of Sue Gerard

Columbia’s first ‘rec center’ was four summer playgrounds

Correct me if I’m wrong. I believe that seven others and I received the first money ever spent by the city of Columbia for "that foolishness - recreation."

One elected official said bluntly, to his colleagues in a city council meeting: "I don’t see spending all that money for people just to watch kids fight!"

At first I was angry! Then I felt sorry for the man. "All that money" was $50 a month for July and August, for young women and men to plan and supervise recreational activities for children on four school playgrounds. The council voted to spend the money.

We were eight young people who loved kids and were enthusiastic about beginning our assignments. We were to work from 1 p.m. until we saw that all of the children were on their way home before dark. Shockey Needy and I were assigned to the Eugene Field School grounds on Range Line Street. The other leaders were assigned to Douglas, Ridgeway and Benton Schools.

The idea of providing something constructive and fun for idle kids during the summer originated with a women’s club. I recall that Mrs. C. B. Miller and Mrs. William Stewart were two who saw the need and helped convince the city council members. John Stapel was also a great champion of youngsters.

Our first checks were marked, "Water and Light expense" because that was the only department which had surplus funds. Bruce Carl, City Treasurer - later Columbia’s mayor - signed the checks and was most enthusiastic about the first summer recreation program for neighborhood children.

On opening day, crowds of children and parents arrived at each playground. I arrived with story books for little fellows and my own long jumping rope. Shockey Needy brought softballs and a bat.

The playground was not fenced, and balls could roll out into Range Line Street’s traffic. Field School’s playground had a wonderful tree that shaded the sand box. Grass grew in spots, and there were bare places where softball bases had been.

Shockey and I had our work cut out for us; he worked with the fellows, and I worked with girls and little boys.

The city provided a small first aid kit and $2 for craft supplies: a hammer and two coping saws and extra blades. Enthusiastic leaders spent mornings at stores begging for wooden orange crates, cheese containers and cigar boxes.

Less than enthusiastic was the public school representative, a Mr. Rosenstengel. The schools’ hallways were blocked so children had access only to toilets and drinking fountains. There was no hiding Rosenstengel’s disapproval of the project when we discovered that the left-over rolls of towels and toilet tissue had been removed from school restrooms before opening day!

Mary Rose McKee, head of women’s physical education at the University of Missouri-Columbia said, "Sue, stop in soon." She and a workman stood by a huge box in the MU women’s gym. "We’re not permitted to sell what’s in this box, and we can’t give it away. It’s a white elephant, and if you allow this man to put it in the back of your car ..." I allowed it! We shared deflated basketballs, volleyballs, ring toss rings, ripped ball gloves, and horse shoes with other leaders.

Parents of the children sent scraps of cloth, wood and old half-used cans of enamel. They loaned scissors, hammers and many other tools and supplies. When we needed a paint brush, a child would run home and borrow it. It was a crude beginning, but summer playground programs were popular with parents and children. They continued for several years.


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