Have fun, kids: At long last, Oakwood park's new play area open

Have fun, kids: At long last, Oakwood park's new play area open

OAKWOOD — When former Mayor Bob Jennings took office six years ago, one of his personal goals was new playground equipment at Oakwood's town park.

"But it was not one I personally aired for a while, because of other priorities," said Jennings, who had that goal, because of the condition of the existing equipment in the park that's at the end of West Longstreth Street and within three blocks of where the Kickapoo Rail Trail will cross the small Vermilion County town.

"Our playground was just aged," he said. "It needed improvement."

This week, Jennings, village officials and residents finally saw their goal realized.

After a ribbon-cutting ceremony, kids rushed to play on the new playground, which is accessible for children of all abilities.

"It's a great project, and the end product is awesome," said Jennings, who helped build all of the playground equipment this summer along with a group of volunteers.

It took them two days of construction, but the effort to raise funds started more than two years ago.

Actually, it didn't begin in earnest, Jennings said, until a few years after he first took office and Vermilion Advantage — the economic development office that serves all of the county — hired a staff member to help smaller communities with certain projects.

Jennings listed a playground as one of Oakwood's desired projects. And Logan Cronk with Vermilion Advantage connected the village with grants and others willing to raise money or donate.

"Logan helped us really get it kicking," Jennings said.

Participants in a Vermilion Advantage-sponsored leadership development program, Leadership Tomorrow, picked the park for their fundraising project and eventually wrote the village a check for more than $9,000.

Jennings said it was also the idea of those in that leadership program to build a playground accessible for all children, regardless their level of physical or mental abilities.

Then Don and Deanna Witzel, owners of the local McDonald's, donated another $5,000 and the Ronald McDonald House Charities kicked in another $5,000. The local AMBUCS group helped, as well.

Jennings said those initial major contributions convinced him and others in Oakwood that their goal could be reached.

Village trustees voted to contribute at least $25,000 from Oakwood's video-gambling revenue, money that Jennings said should be used for the good of the whole community.

Other businesses and individuals began donating money or services, too, and by this construction season, the town had all it needed to begin building a new all-inclusive playground.

"I can't believe after all this time, it's finally here," said village employee Julie Leverenz.