The Time Traveler this week is taking a short hop back to the future — just after the dawn of the new millennium — when hundreds of moms and dads and children of all ages converged on a rolling piece of former pastureland to construct one of the Mid-South’s premier playgrounds.
It was on a steamy August day 18 years ago when the announcement was made that sent children squealing with delight. The Conger Park playground, to be designed by the renowned playground experts Leathers & Associates, would be built on farmland once belonging to former Chancery Clerk Red Conger right at the city limits to the City of Hernando.
Flash forward nearly two decades and Robin Costa Hurdle, along with co-chairman Derick Biglane, appeared this past Thursday night during a Conger Playground reboot effort at Hernando City Hall.
The playground is now almost 20 years old, and with some of its colorful tiles missing, mulch lacking, worn-out handrails sagging and its once cheerful painted facade fading, it’s time to give the playground a much-needed facelift.
The Conger Park playground would be among the very first stories ever reported by The Time Traveler himself. Instantly, this writer was struck by the overwhelming sense of community spirit that launched the original Conger Park effort and that same type of energy and enthusiasm is being rekindled again for the renovation of the children’s park, constructed completely with volunteer labor and community support.
“When the playground was built 18 years ago, the Community Foundation didn’t exist,” said Tom Pittman, CEO and President of the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi, adding the philanthropic umbrella organization was formed not long after the playground was realized, with the same kind of groundswell of community support.
Justin Fowler with Leathers and Associates told community volunteers Thursday he was impressed with the great community endeavor to build the park all those years ago.
“If it wasn’t for communities like yours, I wouldn’t have a job that I love,” Fowler said.
Fowler said the success of the Conger Park renovation is now up to the community.
“They got the ball rolling — now it’s up to you guys,” Fowler said.
He said newer generations and newcomers to the greater community now have an opportunity to help.
“There’s art,” said Fowler. “There’s carpentry. There is moving mulch in a wheelbarrow. It’s comparable to an old-fashioned barn building. It’s something that is lost in the culture today.”
Hurdle said the DeSoto County-based Maddox Foundation made an initial gift of $135,000 toward the original playground effort and has funded plans early on for the playground renovation. Hurdle has put out a clarion call to the community to join in the effort. “For every $20 you put in, we’re going to put up $20,” Hurdle said.
“My children spent many an afternoon there,” added Biglane. “To reinvest in it is a wise move,” said Biglane, a banker by profession.
The Conger Park rebuild effort is set during a four-day period in late October, tentatively set for Oct. 24-27. Hurdle said the possibilities at the soon-to-be expanded playground are endless. “You can add a boat, a spaceship or a race car,” Hurdle said.
Hernando Mayor Tom Ferguson was just a small boy when Conger Park’s namesake, Red Conger, let him play in his almost out-of-this world machine, a 1960s model West German BMW Isetta, which was made famous on the streets of Europe and in French films with subtitles.
If the Time Traveler’s 1958 DeSoto Sportsman coupe ever plays out, he might make a trade for the BMW, which no doubt was the inspiration for the DeLorean years later, with its open hatch. It might make dodging meteors in interstellar space more navigable and easier but a meteor strike head on just might finish off his traveling days for awhile.
The folks at Conger Park are making traveling back in time fun. The same energy and excitement experienced by all who participated all those years ago can be enjoyed once again. Just a little perspiration along with inspiration is all the fuel one needs to make the trip. Bon Voyage!
ROBERT LEE LONG is Curator of the DeSoto County Museum.