Summertime fun in city parks back in the day: sports, crafts, contests and the big parade
It is the 1950s, the first week of summer vacation and the official opening of the City Parks Program. Children would run out the door at 8:50 a.m. to be the first one waiting to meet the new or previous year’s park supervisor.
You know that a great summer is about to begin. You will spend every day at the park from 9 to noon, and from 1 to 5 p.m.
Batavia at one time was divided into parks: Pringle, Kibbe, Lincoln, Austin, Williams, Farrall, MacArthur, and later as Batavia grew and some parks closed and new ones opened, John Kennedy and Lambert Park.
Children went to your neighborhood park and were so proud to say what park you were from. Parks competed against each other in softball and volleyball games. Every Friday night the scores and contest winners would be recorded in the newspaper.
There was a family feeling with every park. Every day there were scheduled arts and crafts projects.
When it was your park’s week for boondoggles (inset image left), the children would have the choice of three, four or eight strands to work on.
The park supervisor sometimes ended up making them for the little ones so they could wear them around their necks as lanyards or a small bracelet.
The favorite craft was the plaster molds. I can still picture the molds being lined up in the sun and the children standing behind the one they picked to make that particular day.
There were so many choices, a favorite was the mold for "The Last Supper." That was probably the largest mold and the most difficult to make.
There was a technique to make this craft. You had to carefully mix the plaster and when it was the right consistency you poured it into the mold. As it dried in the sun, you were hoping your plaster would set. After the plaster dried you would carefully pull back the rubber mold to see if your mold took the plaster.
You couldn’t forget the little tab you put in the back to hang this very heavy item proudly created for your parent’s wall. The last step was to paint your creation. You couldn’t wait to take it home to show mom and dad.
The highlight of the summer program was the park parade. Every year there was a theme and your park had to come up with a float to go along with the theme. Every day you would talk about the parade and the float and how this year your park would beat Kibbe.
The supervisor would keep samples of every craft because they would be judged at the end of the summer event.
Every park had been secretly working on their float that consisted of chicken wire and crepe paper flowers. Everyone had a job. Main Street would close down at the end of August and the street was transformed into a parade of children proudly walking with their float that was being pulled by a tractor.
The store owners would come out of their stores to watch the annual parade. The celebration after the parade was at Austin Park. After the parade, floats would all be lined up to view and every park had a booth. You would stand with your park friends to wait for the results of what park would be the winner this year.
Of course, you always thought your park deserved to be the winner.
It was now time to go back to school and the summer program was coming to an end. New friends were made, memories to last a lifetime were created. When the park kids return to Batavia as adults and drive by “their park,” those wonderful summer memories will come flooding back.
So, this is what we tell our children what it was like back in the day.
As someone who loved going to my neighborhood park as a child and growing up to be lucky enough to be a park supervisor, I commend the Batavia Parks Program for creating summer memories we will never forget.
My years as a park supervisor will always be a cherished time.
The rules for the parks program was to have fun and most of all, be safe. In this time of so much unrest due to COVID-19, thinking back to those summertimes makes you realize how lucky you were to be a Baby Boomer.
Please share your memories, I only touched a few.
Anne Marie Starowitz was a proud supervisor for Farrall Park for three years in the '70s (inset photo right).
Photos and images courtesy of Anne Marie Starowitz.