Twenty years after the completion of an extraordinary event, the raising of a community playground, volunteers who made it all possible gathered together to mark the anniversary.
The 4 p.m. event was organized by Derrick Wynkoop, president of the Walden Savings Bank and one of the organizers of the original playground built in 2001. There was a special significance to the late afternoon start for the observance.
Designers of the playground had told the village that, with the proper amount of volunteers, it would be a five-day build that would see its completion around 4 p.m. on the fifth day.
As it happened, the work of some 1,400 volunteers began on a Wednesday, working 14-16 hour days. Completion of the project was declared at 4 p.m. on the fifth day, Sunday, November 11, 2001.
“It’s exactly what we needed,” said Wynkoop, recalling that it occurred seven weeks after 9-11.
Like today with the community struggling to recover from a pandemic, there was a sense that the community needed to keep moving forward after a tragedy.
Wynkoop also recalled four people who played an instrumental role 20 years ago but who are no longer with us: David Cocks and John Katonah of the Walden Local Development Corp, Walden Recreation Director John Howland and Walden Village Trustee Midge Norman.
The original playground project was conceived by Elizabeth Cappello, who spoke at Sunday’s gathering.
“The idea came about because we just moved to Walden,” Capello said. “We had our daughter. We didn’t have anywhere for her to swing.”
Her husband, attorney John Cappello told her that if she wanted to raise money for building a playground in Walden, she should enlist the help of the Walden Local Development Corp (WLDC).
Elizabeth Cappello recalled a meeting with Dr. Peter Masci, WLDC president in her dining room shortly after 9-11. There was concern about the ability to raise funds in the wake of the national tragedy. The decision was made to continue the project.
“It really brought the community together,” Capello said.
The fundraising was sold. Commemorative bricks and pickets were sold.
“It just got better and bigger,” she said. “Everything was here.”
Attorney Gerald N. Jacobowitz also worked with the WLDC at the time of the playground build.
“All of you out here are volunteers,” Jacobowitz said. “God bless you for being volunteers because you are the heart and soul of a community.”
Jacobowitz offered other examples of the cooperation that makes a community, including the Wallkill Valley Health Center, the Walden Community Council, the Walden Harvest Festival and the Summer Concert series. None of those organizations would exist, and none of those events would be possible, he noted, without the work of dedicated volunteers.
“Let us dedicate this day to the spirit of cooperation,” Jacobowitz said. “All of that is for the good of our community.”
Mike Bliss, Walden’s Recreation Director, was an 18-year-old laborer, working for the Village of Walden at the time. He has come to appreciate the wood structure.
“There were three of these (wood playground) built around that time,” he said, referring to similar structures in Crawford and the Town of Newburgh. “This is the only one standing.”
There are a few changes in the playground since it was dedicated. Wynkoop said $4,400 was raised this year for improvements that will include two picnic tables and to replace the tire swing that fell into disrepair. Also to be added is a wheelchair swing.