As 2-year-old Ethan Roebel played carnival games Friday, his family reflected on more than half of Foster Park's first hundred years.
The Roebels joined more than 300 visitors at the centennial celebration of the southwest side park. Guests and volunteers shared a community dinner on part of the park's original 67 acres. The park at Old Mill and Bluffton roads has grown to 225 acres since Col. David N. Foster, who was a Fort Wayne Park Board president, and his brother Samuel M. Foster donated that first land along the east bank of the St. Marys River.
Ethan's father, Damian, said his father brought him to Foster Park to play Wildcat baseball more than 30 years ago.
Don Roebels, 63, said his own grandparents brought him to Foster Park in the 1950s and '60s. “We would go over here to Hall's (on Bluffton Road) and come here to eat lunch,” Don Roebels said. Teens would drive to the drive-in and then turn around and drive back into the city, he said. “This was right on the edge of everything,” he said.
Patty Tritch, 60, said she remembers listening to the music from the square dances at Foster Park when she was 5. She took tennis lessons at the park. She took part in a special fitness walk Friday, and walks the park regularly. “So it's been an integral part of my life,” she said.
Today, the road ends at the park pavilion parking lot, and a walking trail continues to the south.
Tritch donated to support the free hot dog dinner, and donations to the dinner will support the park's flower gardens. Park employees work hard to maintain the flower gardens, she said. “The flowers are so nice.”
Tritch shared a table with friends Angie and Dan O'Neill, part of a group that donated toward a replacement tree project. Angie, a former parks department employee, said local residents might not realize how fortunate the city is to have 86 parks. “The people who move here from another city say 'wow,' ” she said.
Parks and Recreation Director Al Moll accurately predicted that the heavy rain that fell on the park at about 4 p.m. would not prevent crowds from turning out for the celebration. “It's not just for a free hot dog, but because they support their park,” he said. “It's as pretty a park as we have. After all, it's named for the father of parks.”
Sarah Nichter, the parks department's manager of information and development, said she especially enjoyed organizing Friday's event because she also is a Foster Park neighbor. She said major donors provided the hot dogs for up to a thousand people. “And we're hoping that a thousand show,” she said. The celebration was postponed from the weekend of July 6 and 7 because of storms that toppled trees and cut power throughout the area. “That was exactly 100 years after the park was dedicated,” Nichter said.
The Foster Park, the Illsley Place and the Southwest Park Historic neighborhood associations also supported the Friday dinner and provided volunteers.
Rashad Qadir and Brenda Dowdell said they contributed to the dinner even though they do not eat hot dogs. “I came out to support the park,” said Qadir, who moved here from Baltimore 12 years ago. “I run through here regularly.”
Dowdell said she has visited the park all her life. “It's a really nice park, and I really like the flowers up front,” she said. “The flower gardens give me ideas.”
Volunteers Sara Osbun and Adrienne Maurer prepared the serving line as parks worker Larry Kennedy and volunteer Jay Bastian cooked hot dogs.
Osbun said she learned about the dinner on a Facebook page and was happy to volunteer. She said she attended a family reunion at the park, and recalled three sisters who said they had attended reunions there in the 1920s and '30s. “It's definitely good to have a park available,” she said.
Maurer belongs to the Illsley Place Neighborhood Association. “I live like a block away, and it's the best park in town,” she said. “We're very proud it's celebrating 100 years.”
Parks Superintendent Steve McDaniel said the department has another observance scheduled for Aug. 9, with the dedication of the Ronald G. Repka Memorial Park in Aboite Township.