Despite the fact that it’s now been 16 summers when my own “2001, A Playground Odyssey” ended after what I think just may be a city record for seasonal employees, 24 summers, each June, I always reflect back on those summers and wonder where my co-workers and kids are and how they’re doing at our shared life experience.
With a break in between to finish graduate school and knock out some knee surgery and do a little Mister Mom stuff in the second half of my ’70s Show, from the summer of my junior year at Miami University to the summer after my 28th year as a classroom teacher, I was paid to advance the agendas of our city playgrounds, for seven years as an on-site playground leader and then as a program specialist and media liaison.
A short while ago, when I was riffling through my ideas folder for my weekly columns looking for something to kick off June in true summertime fashion, I found an email I put in the folder that came to me a couple of Decembers ago from one of my kids of yesteryear, Lisa Modica, who grew up off Kibby Street just down from Hover Park and decided to write me on behalf of herself and her sibs.
Because my email address appears at the bottom of all my columns and stories, I have heard from time to time from former students I taught and/or coached, but Lisa is the first from Hover Park or from any other park location to accord the sweetest type of gratitude that can be tendered, gratitude deferred, especially because she felt compelled to say thank you for whatever I did for her and her siblings and friends some three and a half decades later.
With a slight abridgment due to length constraints, here is what Lisa wrote along with some bracketed reactions of mine:
Dear Mr. Grindrod [I found it interesting that while I was called John by all of my playground charges, over time, at least for Lisa, I have become a “Mister.”]
I would like to thank you for your work at Hover Park in the late 70s. I realize you and Peggy [my partner that summer] were paid, but I have always thought both of you went above and beyond, especially since we could be such pests. This program gave so many of us a place to go and a chance to do things that, otherwise, we wouldn’t have been able to do. I can tell you that all of the Modica kids remember you two. Impressions were made, interests were sparked and so much fun was had by all. And, almost all of it was free, even the special programs like the Pepsi [Who says corporate sponsorships are remembered?] Tennis Program. Investing in our children is the best investment we can make. Maybe you could write an article about this.
Lisa, your email did indeed transport me back to a time long before there were emails or texts or Facebook posts or Twitter. Not that I thought Peggy and I were doing anything more than what our colleagues were doing on their parks during a time when there were 20 or so locations spread throughout Lima, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart and am pretty sure Peggy, wherever she is, would too.
For me, those eight weeks each summer were the perfect place for a teacher to be, in a place still connected to kids while we earned our $4 or so an hour. I know I learned a few things about kiddos that I was able to take back to the classroom, and my hope is those Modica kids and kindred young spirits learned some things they took back to the classroom as well. While the money surely wasn’t what many of my pals were making doing other summer jobs, I never regretted a single moment I spent whacking a wiffle ball with the kids or bumping a volleyball or organizing a box hockey tournament or even working on that float for our entry in the Lantern Parade, the float we hoped would float on Bear Pit Pond.
And, my, there were such wonderful people with whom I worked along side, really too numerous to mention, although special acknowledgment should probably go to Pat Morris, Sheila Clark, Kathy McDonald, John Smith, Julie Duffy and Brad Clark.
This year, my pal Rick Stolly tells me there will be four playground locations at Faurot, Lincoln, Robb and Martin Luther King beginning next Monday. The playgrounds will run through Aug. 4. While there is a cost for sign up, I believe it’s nominal, especially given the potential return.
Lisa, you are so right about the treasure that is investing in our kids, and thank you so much for reminding an old playground leader that the best investments are those that still produce dividends over time, in this case almost 40 years later.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News and Our Generation’s Magazine, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.