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Phelps Neighborhood Association purchases new utility vehicle

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Phelps Grove Neighborhood Association members gather around a brand new John Deere ATV “utility vehicle” donated to the Springfield/Greene County Park Board to help maintain the park gardens.

Neighbors of Springfield’s Phelps Grove Park have purchased a new utility vehicle for the Springfield-Greene County Park Board, helping relieve volunteers’ burden of watering young trees in the park.

The vehicle was presented at the Phelps Neighborhood Association meeting following the group’s donation of $6,100 to the Park Board. It will be used in Phelps Grove Park and surrounding area.

The Phelps Neighborhood Association identified the need for the vehicle after learning that park neighbors, Fran and Jim Giglio, had been toting water jugs to the park in a red children’s wagon for more than a decade.

“It started with the 2007 Ice Storm,” said Fran Giglio. “So many trees were damaged. Jim and I decided to donate some trees to the park.”

The donation turned into a habit, and, with the Park Board’s permission, the Giglios have continued to plant about a dozen trees in a year in Phelps Grove Park— to date, numbering 124.

The two have nurtured the trees, particularly during dry weather. An average summer evening meant three or four trips with the wagon from their home to the park.

“The park staff does do some watering, but I was very careful that they didn’t die,” says Fran Giglio.

“We interrupted a summer vacation to come home and water the trees during a drought,” adds Jim Giglio, But there was also a greater purpose to their volunteer service. “The original intent of putting these trees in is, we hoped our neighbors would do the same.”

Phelps Neighborhood Association President Eric Pauly says neighbors have indeed taken notice.
“We heard about it from one of our association members, the work that they had been doing over there,” says Pauly, “and we tried to figure out a way to be more efficient and take that workload off of them.”

After consulting with the Park Board, they settled on a John Deer Gator with a small dump bed and a removable 25-gallon polyethylene water tank. The Phelps Neighborhood Association had some funds available, and continued to raise money for the project through donations, events and t-shirt sales. In all, the neighborhood association donated $3,100. The Giglios donated another $3,000.

The Gator was purchased in September and is already in use at Phelps Grove Park for general maintenance, hauling trash and debris, and, of course, bringing water to the young trees planted by the Giglios. The vehicle is also available to maintenance staff at the Springfield Art Museum, adjacent to the park. The Gator replaces a much older utility vehicle, which will be moved to another park for use.

The Springfield-Greene County Park Board recognized the Phelps Neighborhood Association and Fran and Jim Giglio for their donation, as well as a decade of volunteer service in the park, at the October Park Board meeting.

“The whole idea behind this is to take care of the park as it is today, but also to make sure that future generations have a beautiful park,” Pauly told the board. “We also hope this will inspire other citizen and neighborhood associations to take a look around at their area, and see what it is they can do.”

Phelps Grove Park, 950 E. Bennett St., was one of the first new parks acquired by the Park Board, on April 22, 1914. At the time, the park was south of Springfield city limits. The fieldstone pavilion, bridges and entry gates on Dollison Avenue date to the park’s creation. In the 1930s, McGee-McGregor Wading Pool was constructed and the WPA lined Fassnight Creek with stone. The original park featured zoo animals, relocated to Dickerson Park Zoo in 1923, and a man-made lake, now the site of the Springfield Art Museum. One of Springfield’s founding families, Gov. John S. and Mary Whitney Phelps, homesteaded the park and surrounding neighborhood.

George Freeman is a veteran journalist and photographer. An award-winning writer, editor and columnist in Springfield, Mo., with more than 50 years experience. His preference is for positive and uplifting stories about people, places, traditions and trends that make the Ozarks one of the most livable regions anywhere. A member of the Garden Writers Association of America, he is a past-president of the Society of Professional Journalists of Southwest Missouri, the Kansas and Ohio AP societies; a board member of Friends of the Garden and a member of the Rotary Club of Springfield. In 1976, he traveled to India as a member of a Rotary Foundation Group Study Exchange Team.

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