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Chagrin Falls Park reunion is one for memories
Chagrin Falls Park reunion is one for memories
By JOAN DEMIRJIAN
It has been 20 years or more since Douglas Sanders, of Phoenix, Ariz., had seen some of the people he knew growing up in Chagrin Falls Park in Bainbridge.
Recently, he and many others gathered in a reunion for the neighborhood off South Franklin Street.
Roland and Rose Motley began planning the event over a year ago, when invitations went out, and 180 people showed up.
Resident and lifetime resident Timothy Boxson said the event was a first for the Park.
"I've seen so many people I haven't seen in 40 years," he said. "There are so many memories. It's good to see old neighbors back."
Resident Dee Richards was master of ceremonies at the banquet held Aug. 9 at the Barrington Inn in Aurora. The dinner was preceded by a picnic on the Chagrin Falls Park Community Center grounds and a "meet-and-greet" at the center the night before.
Mr. Sanders, a 1981 graduate of Kenston High School in Bainbridge, left when he was 19, but recalls the community with fond memories. "It was like a family," he said.
Everyone stressed how growing up in the Park instilled in them the importance of community.
Mr. Sanders said there are also many new faces. He remembers when the old community center, a former mink farm, was in operation. It started in 1950 and was replaced by the new center in 1997.
"The whole community is involved in the Park in some shape or form," Mr. Sanders said. "The community center has always touched lives here. And it still seems like country here."
Ken Harris still lives in Bainbridge and also graduated in 1981. "I'm seeing a lot of people I haven't seen in years," he said. "It's a good turnout."
Many who have been gone a long time noted the redevelopment within the community which was started in 2000 by the Chagrin Falls Park Community Development Corp.
Through the program, blighted houses have been removed, and new homes have added thousands of dollars in property tax collections in the township.
Mozelle McMiller Harrell, 85, of Cleveland, said her family was one of the first families to occupy the Park. "It was called the 'allotment' at that time," she said. "I have a lot of memories here," she said.
Her sister, Ruth McMiller Davis, lives in Richmond Heights. "We came here in the 1930s," she said. "It was always mudhole roads with only six or seven homes.
"There were little shacks back then," Mrs. Davis said. "How nice the roads are now. We took a ride through the community. It's beautiful. It's surprising to see everything new compared to what we had."
Their sister, Dorothy McMiller Newman, of Cleveland, said their father, Henry McMiller, bought two lots in the Park, moving his family to the Park when there were five houses "and the rest was wilderness."
Mrs. Newman graduated from Bainbridge School in 1945. "It was a lot of fun living here," she said. "We went in the woods, and we picked hickory nuts, blackberries and strawberries. But I hated the outside toilets."
She recalled walking to the stores in Chagrin Falls and working as a babysitter for village residents. There were three churches in the Park at that time, she said.
Eugene Hall, 75, who lives in Newark, N.J., left the area 46 years ago. He said his family moved to the Park in 1938 from Cleveland when he was 5.
"My dad earned $3.25 per week at Empire Plow. He came out here so he could grow a garden. There were no lights and no paved roads. We used kerosene lanterns and candles," Mr. Hall said.
"There was one store owned by Mr. Collins and everyone shopped in Chagrin Falls. I went to the Park school and to high school in Cleveland."
William Hitchcock, a 1976 graduate of Kenston High School, was a guest speaker at the dinner banquet along with Park resident Bruce Akens. Mr. Hitchcock now lives in Sacramento, Calif. Still, he said, "This is home and always has been home."
"I didn't want to miss the excitement and the people," he said. "I wish my own kids could grow up here. You had to be creative. We played in the woods and rode old bikes that we fixed up."
His parents moved to the Park in the mid-1950s, living on Rocker Street. He used to explore the farm fields and woods where South Franklin Circle, a Judson community, is being built, he said. "I'd pick blackberries for my mother to make pie."
Often times he and friends walked to the movie theater in Chagrin Falls and to the Popcorn Shop. It has been 35 years since he has seen many of those who attended the reunion, Mr. Hitchcock said.
Michael Haller said his mother, Bernice Haller, still lives on Bedford Street where he grew up with his cousins. A 1975 graduate of Kenston, he recalled going to the small Park School until third grade. "I never thought I would see the newer houses they have built since then."
James L. Rondo, a 1965 Kenston graduate, recalled how "everyone knew each other. In those days, we didn't lock our doors. The community center was the only place to do things. There was a canteen every Friday." He played on the Kenston basketball team and after practice at Kenston, he had to walk home, even in the winter, he said.
Ruth Aken Logan said she recalled "wonderful years" in her childhood in the Park. "We were poor and we never knew it." When she was 5, her family's house burned on Kent Street.
"We went to the Boldens to live," she said. "They were like family."
Harriet Bolden said her father, John Bolden, moved to the Park with his family when he was 7. Her mother, Grace Bolden, at 94, is probably the oldest resident in the Park.
She also attended the Park School before going on to Kenston. "I've seen a lot of people I grew up with," she said.
Artie Brooks graduated from Kenston High School in its first graduating class of 1961. He now lives in Wilmington, Ohio.
"Conditions weren't the best in the Park," he said of growing up in the 1950s in the community during tough economic times "But there were loving people and there were a lot of people helping others."
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