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FROM UGLY TO BEAUTIFUL IN 80 DAYS

There is a small triangular shaped city park named Soldiers and Sailors Park located on north side of Central between 13th and 14th Streets. In the west end of the park is erected a Downtown Neighborhoods sign, and in the eastern quarter of the park is a Vietnam memorial that was constructed and dedicated in 1966. This story begins with the D.N.A. sign falling, laying face down on the dead lawn as a result of posts rotting out. Taking a look at fixing the sign lead to ABQ City Parks and Recreation Dept., taking a look at the state of the park and its memorial. The US and POW flags were faded and tattered, the solar lights for the flags no longer operated, the bronze memorial plaque had been stolen, and the circular sitting wall paint had graffiti, and was chipped and faded. The park itself was showing neglect with broken trash can containers, broken and missing sprinkler heads, areas where the grass had died out long ago, a worn picnic table and bus bench, etc.

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A Streetscapes City Grant was being offered, so it was proposed that the DNA apply for the grant, and match it with funds to rehab the memorial with a new plaque, flags, and lights. With the help of an association member, Susan Hembree, the DNA applied for the grant before the deadline in December, and received an award amount of $221.00 in February. The members were disappointed, because close to ten times that amount was needed for this project. At about the same time, Ms. Hembree was posting a notice on Nextdoor.com to be on the lookout for a person who was going around collecting dog poop and dumping it in people’s yards. Reporter Caleb James for KOB Eyewitness News 4, and a fellow member of Nextdoor.com, saw the post and contacted Ms. Hambree about the story. After the interview, he asked her if there was anything else exciting happening in the neighborhood. She told him about the Soldiers and Sailors Park project, which lead to interviews with Dick Deichsel, our State Representative, Rick Miera (also a DNA Board member), and Don Johnson, whose family law practice office is directly across the street from the park on Tijeras and 13th. In this interview it was discovered that Mr. Johnson and some volunteers did a rehabilitation of the memorial in 2010, and felt that it was time to do it again. This piece was aired on the 10:00 o’clock news that evening. Major Nichole King-Campbell, Air Force Reserve, the president of the General Lloyd Newton Chapter of the Tuskegee Airman (a non-profit specializing in veterans’ issues), contacted Caleb James to find out how her organization could help. He held another interview the next afternoon, which aired that night on the10:00 o’clock news. That story lead to more calls of interest in the project.
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The first organizational meeting on March 10th, was attended by Don Johnson of Johnson Family Law, who is also a Lt. Commander in the USN Reserves, three representatives from ABQ City Parks and Recreation Dept., Paul Hyso, Malia Tafoya and Michael Montoya, Major Nichole King Campbell, USAF Reserves, Kelley Way, President of North American Veterans at Intel, two DNA representatives, Dick Deichsel and Anna Muller, and Caleb James from KOB Eyewitness News 4. The wheels were set in motion during this meeting for a complete rehabilitation of the park by ABQ City Parks and Recreation, and the donations and volunteers brought together by the other people listed above completed the rehabilitation of the memorial. A goal was set to have the rededication celebration of the park and memorial on Memorial Day, May 26th.

On that day, only a short two and a half months (80 days) from the first meeting, with about a hundred people in attendance, a rededication ceremony was held. The program included an airman singing the Star Spangled Banner, speakers, and a bag piper closing with Amazing Grace. It was a wonderful tribute to a department in city government, businesses, and community, all working together as a team towards a common, worthy goal.

If you haven’t seen the KOB Eyewitness News 4 pieces on this project, the links to the three are listed below: