By DAVID GREEN
A cornfield. An overgrown woods with trails. A meandering creek.
Fayette’s park didn’t always look like it does today. Not at all.
Among all the people who have helped the park develop over the decades, Leonard Morr stands out as one of the chief boosters—a booster with a set of working hands.
Leonard grew up on a farm northwest of town, near the intersection of US-127 and the railroad. When his father died, he and his siblings had the chance to take over the farm and run the place, but no one stepped forward.
“We were young,” he remembers. “We wanted to live in the city. A couple of years after I was in town, I wished I was back in the country.”
Leonard’s involvement with the town park evolved long before that. He figures he was probably 15 years old when his father got him involved in cleaning out Normal Grove behind the school.
It was really overgrown and the kids had trails through the trees, he said. It became a great place to hide out—well out of the sight of teachers.
“The Grange took over the project and got the whole place cleared out.”
That was only the beginning.
Next, he helped his father build a pair of dugouts at the ball diamond at the school. They used some tough old barn wood that was a challenge to drill through.
Soon, the cheap labor was called on again.
“They decided they wanted to have a tennis court and we had to move a lot of dirt,” Leonard said.
There was high ground behind the water plant and it was leveled off by a man using a team of horses and a scraper. Leonard and two other boys had to transport the dirt by wheelbarrow.
“We were all summer doing it.”
The tennis court was later converted to a basketball court, just west of the newer court by the pool, and the old tennis markings are still visible on the concrete.
The village and the Grange worked together on one other project that Leonard helped with—a shelter house for the Grove. There’s also a piece of Morenci in that one. The roof was once part of the gas station next to Swaney’s garage.
The kids loaded it onto a farm wagon and began the slow trip back to Fayette. Leonard was at the wheel of the tractor and he would pull off to the side when his helpers announced that traffic was approaching from behind.
At one point, a wagon wheel slipped into a hole and the roof slid off into the ditch.
“I told them they should have tied it on,” he said.
After school, Leonard took a series of jobs with International equipment dealers, just as the company was undergoing big changes. One by one, the businesses closed until he finally landed a job with a firm that serviced International vehicles.
“But after a year, they wanted me to move to Chicago so I quit that.”
He wanted to stay in his home town and that’s when he started working part time for the village. He was later offered a full-time position as water superintendent, and eventually he was put in charge of streets, and finally of sewers, also.
“In 1971 they made me administrator of the town,” he said.
Leonard applied for a grant that carried Fayette’s recreational needs a long way. The grant stipulated village ownership, so the school gave up control of the property.
Spring Creek once meandered through the area where the running track is located, but the waterway was straightened to create a large area for recreation.
A new concession stand with rest rooms was constructed. Fencing went in, a new backstop was erected. A tennis court was built south of the track and a basketball court went in east of the old court.
“We were smarter this time,” Leonard said. “We had a truck carry the dirt.”
It wasn’t just grant money that made it all happen. The village had to provide some funding, also, and there were plenty of volunteer services.
For the basketball court, Leonard secured five-inch pipe from a relative who operated a well-drilling rig. It was transported to Fayette Manufacturing where the pipe was cut and support plates were welded into place.
Later, a new ball diamond was built for Little League age boys and girls.
In the 1980s, adult softball was strong in Fayette, so a fund-raising effort was started for field lights. Edison dropped the poles into place, then volunteers gathered at the park after dinner to attach the light brackets.
Again and again, it was the donations of time and money—bolstered by the grant—that made the park what it is today.
A walk through the park makes Leonard think about how things have changed over the years, and in one way, how they’ve stayed the same.
“There’s never enough people to go around,” he said, “and so there’s always a problem with maintenance.”
With streets, water and sewers as a high priority, the park remains short of the attention needed.
But the way the park is used has changed.
“We used to have waiting lists for the shelter houses. Hardly anyone comes in for softball anymore.”
The last time that happened—coupled with a shortfall in village funding—a lot of maintenance slipped.
The shuffleboard and tennis courts are unused. Leonard points to a concrete slab where charcoal pits once stood, and on to the T-ball field, just east of the Grove, a project he spearheaded in the late 1980s.
“I cut it out and got stone put in and fence up, and then it got neglected.”
Plans are underway now to refurbish the facility and to give it a new name—Leonard Morr Field. A dedication ceremony is planned at 5:30 p.m. Thursday with Leonard as the guest of honor.
“I’ve spent a lot of time here over the years,” he says as he looks out over the fields below.
He’s speaking with a good measure of understatement, and the Recreation Board understands that. Board members want Leonard to understand the breadth of their gratitude when they say “thank you” Thursday night.– July 16, 2003