By TOM SPIESS
As the final Bull Thistle Festival reports are filed, equipment cleaned and inventories counted, the Normal Grove returns to its original purpose: to provide quiet and respite for those grabbing a quick lunch, short nap or leisurely stroll with kids in hand. A peaceful place, a place steeped in history and filled with memories and poised for future use.
For the past four decades that experience has been enhanced by the efforts and support of the Bull Thistle Festival Committee. Over the past two years the Committee has spearheaded efforts to repair and paint the large shelter house at the Grove. Concrete patches were made, the ceiling painted, and rotted boards replaced in an effort to keep the facility in a condition that promotes community use during the Festival and throughout the year.
Ruth Marlatt, Chairman of the Bull Thistle Committee stated that this is one way the committee continues to give back to the community. She went on to point out that in addition to the shelter house upgrades, the fence around the old basketball court was painted to dress up the space for the Arm Wrestling Challenge held annually at the Festival.
Over the years, the Bull Thistle Committee members take pride in their contributions to the maintenance of park grounds and facilities. From supporting electrical upgrades to purchasing picnic tables and replacing signs, the Park has benefited from the efforts of the BTF Committee.
Most importantly, the Bull Thistle Festival has brought thousands to the Park to celebrate what it is to be a “Community.”
The Grove and Community Park has always held a special place in the hearts and minds of Fayette area residents.
Originally given to the community by the old Fayette Normal University, the Grove was always meant to be a community gathering place.
In the early 1950s visionaries designed a five-hole golf course for the park. While that dream never materialized id did lead to other initiatives.
In the 1970s significant capital projects were successfully undertaken driven by private sector community leaders.
A team of citizens led by Dr. Nyce, Keith Humbert, Ken Cooley, and Elwyn Bates—supported by the hard work of the Pretenders women’s club—raised money and support to build the community swimming pool in 1972. Hundreds contributed time, talent and treasures to make their vision a reality. In that process they raised community spirit. When built and paid for, the pool was turned over to the Village to operate and maintain.
With families filling the pool on a regular basis and the Fayette Slow Pitch Association's “Slow Pitch Marathons” taking place at the historic ball field, the Community Park and Normal Grove was the place to be.
Their success led to more activity.
In the late 70s the Park Board and its then Park Director Joe Long created a larger vision that included a new track, south shelter house, tennis courts east softball field and additional athletic fields. With the support of grants and the work of the Corp of Engineers, those visions became realities also.
Dee Lawrence, former Village office staff member noted that with the presence of the pool and the Slow Pitch events, the shelter houses were regularly rented for family reunions, community gatherings and events.
“It was an exciting time,” she said.
The Normal Grove was and is a central part of the life of the Fayette Community and the Bull Thistle Committee is committed to keeping it so.