The idea of a community park came up over a cup of coffee by three local men, Charlie Dey, Steve Schwegel and Andy Manar. They knew that the current ballpark was already inadequate for the number of participants that used it, and there was really no “park” for families to go to. So, in 1999, a committee was formed to oversee the dream of a new community park in Bunker Hill. The goal of the park committee was to research the viability of a community park which would provide an open, free space for activities, family and group events, walking and quiet time.
After many, many months of planning, the community park is becoming a reality. The park is located at the north edge of Bunker Hill, next to State Route #159, at the current ball field. It joins and extends from the northeast corner of the current ball field. Mae Whitaker community park will become a place that highlights the City of Bunker Hill as a special community, with a unique past and a bright future. Whitaker park will be utilized in partnership with the Bunker Hill Community School District for educational and physical activity purposes. One softball field, two baseball fields, along with a soccer field will be available for use by the sports-minded citizenry of Bunker Hill. Whitaker community park will also include beautiful landscaping, trees, picnic tables, gazebos, a walking trail, a large playground and a lake with a waterfall for the enjoyment of all Bunker Hill citizens.
Whitaker community park became a reality for many reasons. One was the dedication of the Park committee that met each month to plan all aspects of the park. Steve Schwegel of rural Bunker Hill took on the task of organizing the park committee. Members of the park committee are from all parts of the community. Some of those dedicated citizens were Andy Manar, Charlie Dey, Mary Burns, Eldon Duelm, Nancy Scroggins, Doris Rull, Marie Kampwerth, Dorothy Girth, Doris Karnes, Marvin Rensing and Pam Monetti. The Park committee researched various locations and decided the best location was near and part of the current ballpark. After coming up with a plan, the park committee met with the Bunker Hill City Council. The Council agreed unanimously to support the idea of a community park. Charlie Dey was then hired as the new park coordinator.
The Park committee then met with the Bunker Hill Community School Board to facilitate the acquisition of the land on which the current ballpark sits. One of the reasons for the acquisition was the location next to the city limits and Route #159. Another reason was that the School District could not apply for property improvement grants from the state to use for improving the property. By transferring the property to the City, it could be improved by the City, since the city could be eligible to request grants from the State of Illinois. It would also show the State that the community was committed to this park project. Fortunately, the Bunker Hill School Board supported the proposal of a park, by transferring title to the land on which the current ballpark is located, to the City.
Next, was the decision of hiring a competent Landscape Engineer. Wayne Freeman, who is the executive director of the Greater Rivers Land Trust, was hired in that capacity. Through his efforts, the park committee was put in touch with The Whitaker Foundation in St. Louis, Missouri. The Whitaker Foundation was created by Mrs. Mae (Meissner) Whitaker. Mrs. Whitaker was born in Bunker Hill. Mrs. Whitaker’s brother, George, was instrumental in the building of our Meissner School. Mrs. Whitaker formed this foundation to encourage the arts, health and parks. The Park committee came to the realization that the new park could really and truly become a reality, after receiving positive feedback from The Whitaker Foundation.
Property owners adjoining the current ballpark were approached to see if anyone wanted to sell any of their property to enlarge the Park area and ensure it was adequate in size. Mr. & Mrs. William D. Boutin agreed to sell a portion of their land. The park would now encompass almost twenty acres.
Wayne Freeman then began the arduous task of requesting grants from the State of Illinois. In April of 2001, Bunker Hill was one of two municipalities in the State of Illinois to qualify for a LAWCON (Land & Water Conservation) federal grant in the amount of $32,000. Another grant that the committee has applied for is the OSLAD (Open Space Land Acquisition Development) grant.
Phase I has already begun. Earth work including drainage and the new pond were completed in October, 2000. Seeding and spreading straw to get the ground cover ready for winter was completed in November. Now the community has started making donations and contributions for Park improvements. Donations have even been received from former residents. A tree and/or brick memorial program has been implemented. Phase II of the project will include the construction of the ball and soccer fields. It is very exciting to see progress begin in Bunker Hill. The community park will be an important asset to the citizens of Bunker Hill and the surrounding area. See attached pictures. Park meetings are held on the first Monday of every month at the Municipal Building. Everyone is welcome.