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The Will Rogers Park Project: Not Just a Dream Anymore

You may or may not have heard the name “Crystal Wood Campbell.” If you haven’t, you’re about to. If you have, there are several capacities in which you may have heard it. Do you know her as The Official Wife? Maybe the mom of four kids who keep her extremely busy? Or as CHS’s former basketball coach Mark Campbell’s daughter-in-law? Maybe the local author who has three recently published books?

parkToday, we want you to know Crystal as the driving force behind the Will Rogers Park Project. She’s originally from Checotah, so she understands even more than we can imagine the daily life in small-town Oklahoma. She hails from a ranch and farming family and knows the worth of a handshake and hard work. She holds an Early Childhood Education degree from Oklahoma State University and has a few years’ experience in teaching as well as volunteering at Westside Elementary where her kids attend. Wife and mom, Crystal has lived in Claremore the past eight years, bringing along her parents, John and Glenda Wood. Her mother, Glenda, is the branch manager at the Blue Starr branch of BancFirst and her father, John drives the activity bus for RSU.

Several months ago, Crystal wrote, “This town that we live in has done some incredible things and has produced some incredible people. But in the last seven years that I have lived here, I have seen the cynicism grow like a disease. That is where the Will Rogers Park Project becomes a shot in the arm to the ugliness of “it will never happen in this town because nothing ever changes in Claremore”. I can’t bring a new restaurant to town or change the train tracks…but I can help our town build an incredible park. A park that will be a beacon every time someone passes through our city; a place where kids can socialize instead of camping out in front of a TV and family pictures can be taken around a beautifully designed landscape.”

The idea for the revitalization of the park was born when Crystal’s daughter, a Claremore elementary student, took a field trip to a playground…in a neighboring town. Why? Why should our kids have to get on a bus to go play somewhere? According to Crystal, they shouldn’t.

The first step was pitching the project to the city council. They approved. And it’s been experiencing a snowball effect ever since. The launchpad for the park was the splash pad, which was originally slated to be at Claremore Lake Park. Due to issues beyond the city’s control, it was relocated to the Will Rogers Park and opened in August 2013. The Will Rogers Park Project has been the recipient of a $10,000 donation from the Cherokee Nation, a grant from Dr. Pepper/Snapple, and is awaiting approval on other grants that will go toward a walking trail, picnic pavilion with restrooms and additional playground equipment. Funding has been provided by the City of Claremore, as well as giving full support to the efforts.

In addition, businesses and private citizens can help by purchasing items for the park, including personalized benches, pavers and bricks. Lapel pins are also available for just $5.

park3The personalized bricks/pavers will be placed in either the Heroes Memorial, which celebrates our military servicemen and women and those who serve the public such as fire protection, police, sheriff and civic leaders, or they may be placed in the family/friends/celebrations memorial, the latter being a place to celebrate life and the accomplishments of our community. A great example is the CHS Winterguard champions 2013 (and now 2014!) brick that will be placed in this area. Bricks are $25 and pavers are $100.
The benches will be placed throughout the park and the ones ordered so far have turned out great! They can be personalized with a family name, a high school class year, a business logo or organization emblem –pretty much anything! Benches are $400 and $550 depending on length of the bench. It is no additional cost to personalize.
park4The committee understood that they could have charged more for bricks but wanted to make them affordable for everyone to be able to contribute and have their little piece of ownership in the park. Forms are available to pick up at the Blue Starr branch of BancFirst, the Community Center, or Rogers County Health Department.

Other organizations have offered assistance, such as RoCo Health Department, Rogers County Coalition, Cherokee Nation Healthy Nation, Healthy Community Partnership, and Volunteers for Youth. Joe Kays, director of the Parks & Recreation department, and Renetta Harrison of the RoCo Health Department have been instrumental in making the Will Rogers Park Project a reality.

park2In another large chapter of the park project, the Master Gardeners Association of Rogers County has been diligently working on installing a teaching garden with a magnificent entrance, complete with courtyard. They are raising funds separately for this project, and have received a grant from Lowe’s. I stopped by recently to speak with Master Gardener Ann Baker, and several Lowe’s employees were on site, digging in the dirt alongside the Master Gardeners. The multi-faceted venture will eventually encompass the entire eastern portion of the park. The goal of the Master Gardeners is to educate the public in matters of horticulture. This would definitely help!

Dreams are being pitched, and hopefully will soon be realized, of concerts and movies in the park. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Will Rogers Park was known as “the park” in Claremore? A gathering place for all kinds of folks? The kids can play at the splash pad or the brand-new playground, the adults can wander the walking trails and explore the gardens, and everyone can join together to listen to live music in the evenings. It’s a beautiful vision that is slowly coming true, thanks to the likes of citizens like Crystal Campbell and Ann Baker, and of course, their teams of volunteers.

The five acres on which the park sits were originally part of the Will Rogers Memorial, and the land was donated by Will Rogers’ wife, Betty, after his passing. In May 1940, this monument was put in place and the VFW dedicated the Will Rogers Park playground to “the children of the world”. The mission of the Will Rogers Park Project is to ensure that each child has a place to play, to make memories and forge friendships. Not every child has an X-Box and a multitude of Barbie dolls. Not every child has the ability to travel to another town to play on a fantastic playground.

The mission of this project is to bring a huge playground, beautiful teaching gardens and a place to honor our military to Claremore, Oklahoma. Let’s make this dream come true. For more background on the project in Crystal’s own words, please click HERE and HERE.

If you have questions or want to know more about how you can help, please email willrogersparkproject@gmail.com and follow the Facebook page to receive the latest updates.

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