It's a fitting legacy to name a fitness park in the name of a former Superintendent of Education who set the pace for growth in Mississippi's fast-growing county and largest public school district.
On Friday, friends and fellow educators along with Hernando city officials gathered at the former Hernando Sports and Fitness Park for the official renaming of the park in honor of longtime DeSoto County Superintendent of Education Milton Kuykendall.
The park, built around the site of the former track and football field of the old Hernando High School, will henceforth be known as the Milton Kuykendall Sports and Fitness Park.
Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson officially proclaimed the park open under its new name and praised Kuykendall for a lifetime of public service and dedication to the city and county's youth.
"I personally would like to thank you Mr. Kuykendall for all your years of service to our community and our school system," Ferguson said as more than 100 well-wishers crowded around Kuykendall and his wife Jean for the occasion. "You made a very big impact on our children, our teachers and our community. Thank you for being a leader in our community and for working so hard to ensure young children achieve academic success and pursue healthy lifestyles."
For his part, Kuykendall recalled how the former park had fallen into disrepair. The DeSoto County School District donated it to the city and Kuykendall noted that he began to see improvements being made almost instantly.
The track was refinished and field refurbished and other improvements were steadily made over the past few years.
"This field hadn't been used in several years," noted Kuykendall, before it was transformed once again into a hub of recreational activity, being used as the main field for the Hernando Youth Football League, track and field events and soccer programs. "I'm very grateful for the honor that the city has bestowed upon me. I'm proud to have been a part of DeSoto County Schools for so long. I may not look like it, but I've been in the kid business for 45 years. In the Book of Matthew, it talks about children. Children are the most precious thing in the eyes of God. He has given me an opportunity to be in the kid business for all these years."
Kuykendall lauded the partnership between the City of Hernando and the DeSoto County School District.
"This field is used every day," Kuykendall said. "The city fixed it up and made it a nice place. I'm very touched by this. I'm just moved by all this."
DeSoto County Superintendent of Education Cory Uselton also praised Kuykendall for his foresight and vision.
"I've always had a great amount of respect for Mr. Kuykendall, even more so since I have become superintendent," Uselton said, eliciting laughter from the crowd.
Uselton said Kuykendall presided over a very critical time in the growth and development of the DeSoto County School System.
"During this time period we had tremendous growth," Uselton said. "With all of this growth, we would have never been so successful without his leadership. It was very difficult passing two bond issues but I also think about his real legacy — it's about the people. All the teachers and staff and students across the district."
Robert Lee Long is Community Editor of the DeSoto Times-Tribune. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 662-429-6397, Ext. 252.