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URBANA — Scott Reichard’s earliest memories of Blair Park involved playground equipment that was assuredly more dangerous than anything you’d see today.
Blair Park has been home for generations of Reichard children dating to the 1950s. Scott and his brother, Jon, were both born in 1953 and grew up across the street on Hillcrest Street.
“It was a great park for us growing up,” Scott said. “I never really thought about it when I was growing up. Having this here was like, wow. We had a lot of great memories (here).”
Now, the brothers are spearheading an effort to raise money for a new pavilion inside the park to replace a structure showing its age.
“The goal here anyway is just to create an environment, create a facility for family and friends to be able to get together,” Jon said.
“We grew up in a very strong family on both my mother’s side and my father’s side, long roots into Urbana. And so what we experienced, we would just like to see that go forward.”
Updates to the park have sprung up around the current pavilion, which was built in 1952. It stands near resurfaced tennis courts and new playground equipment. The entire park was recently enclosed by sidewalks.
Foot traffic — at least anecdotally — has risen as a result. But it’s becoming more common to see family gatherings and parties take place on the lawn near the awning than under its shady respite.
“Every time we’re here there’s more and more crowds that are here,” Scott said. “A lot of people use the other picnic tables … but we’re going to hopefully change all that and the memories that we’ve had, maybe they could share as well.”
Seven Reichards — Jon, Judy, Nathan, Patti, Nathan and Scott — have donated toward the six-figure cost attached project that will be supplemented by a matching grant from Urbana Park District if it is approved in January.
Scott and Jon’s hope is that construction will begin next summer on the project, which will include an expansion of the shaded area under the awning and new restrooms.
“It’s a pretty large project,” Jon said. “It doesn’t look like it, but it’s a pretty big project. So a little grant money is going to help so that’s part of going through that process.”
A look at the diamond on the corner of Pennsylvania and Broadway evokes memories of the brothers’ Little League baseball success in 1965, when their Coca-Cola team went 16-0 and entered the tournament as the top seed.
No comment on how the tournament played out, though the baseball team fared better than the Golden Bears youth football team on which Scott was the quarterback and Jon was the running back.
Each of the Reichard children learned to play tennis at the park’s courts. Scott and Fred Shrumpf organized the first UPD tennis tournament on those courts in 1972. Scott and Fred were playing partners until Scott found success playing alongside his mother, Melba, in mixed doubles play.
“I met a lot of good friends here,” Reichard said. “Long time, you know, lifelong friends.”
Melba and her husband, Dave, were among the first wave of local residents to use the park when it opened in the 1950s. Melba was an accomplished athlete in her own right, racking up accolades in local basketball, softball and tennis contests.
“She won pretty much everything she did,” Scott said. “She was a winner.”
Plans for a mural of those memories — and more — is also planned for the new structure, tentatively named the Reichard Cabin at Blair Park.
The Reichard family continues to utilize Blair Park’s facilities on a regular basis.
Scott’s three grandchildren — Adelaide, Austin and Emma Walter — were enjoying a cool autumn afternoon at the park on Oct. 10. It’s an easy guess where the three will soon learn the basics of tennis.
“Once you have grandkids and you see them and how much they enjoy that, every time the grandkids come here, they meet all kinds of new friends,” Scott said.
“Just watching all that you go, ‘Wow, I kind of took that for granted when I was growing up,’ you know.”