For more than three decades, Verne Pinkston served as the Raymond Park Board secretary/treasurer, following in the footsteps of his father, who performed that very same capacity for eight years before passing away in 1978. But after this year's consolidated election, Pinkston decided not to run for re-election, allowing a new face to take reign.
The Raymond native's history with the park didn't start there, though.
During his younger years, Pinkston and a group of boys cut a spot out of the big grassy field near the railroad tracks and constructed a ball diamond to play baseball.
"There was a bunch of boys when I was in junior high and high school, and we'd congregate out there about every day or at least on weekends and we'd play ball," he recalled. "Sometimes 18, 20 of us and eventually that's when the land was purchased and where the park was built. We kind of take credit for getting that started."
That group of boys would include Terry Todt, Randy Pope, their brothers and the Held boys, with half of them serving the village of Raymond in later years.
"Crawdad Stadium we called it," he said, adding that Todt was responsible for the moniker.
"There were crawdad holes out there," he said with a laugh. "I never did see a crawdad but he said they were out there. I don't believe him. I probably thought they were snake holes but he thought they were crawdad holes."
Growing up, Pinkston was very active within the pony league baseball and little league baseball teams, and even coached the pony league team for several years until his children played. In addition to coaching, he would find himself behind the batter as an umpire.
"I was always out at the park, getting the fields ready and doing things like that," he said.
Pinkston said the park board had a vacancy and when someone asked him to consider filling the position in 1983, he decided to run for election. His involvement in the park and the fact that his father also served on the board lead him to make the move, he said.
However, it didn't come without its challenges, but Pinkston and his fellow commissioners handled each task with grace.
"Not all projects went like they were supposed to," he said, recalling time spent trying to paint the chain-linked fence on the basketball and tennis courts.
"We didn't think it'd be much of a problem, but we learned that was a challenge. We couldn't figure out the best way to do it, with brushes, with rollers. We wore gloves, dipped them in paint and were wiping our hands on it and nothing seemed to work."
What was intended to be a quick job, eventually became somewhat of a joke they could all share when facing other feats.
"Every time we started a project we would say, oh it'll take us about 30 minutes like the fence," he said.
And if you ask him, the park board's efforts wouldn't have been made possible if it weren't for the unwavering support given by the community.
"The community was real good at supporting the park," said Pinkston. "When we built the softball and soccer fields, we needed money."
He recalled receiving a matching grant from the Department of Natural Resources for $190,000, however they would need to raise another $190,000. Pinkston said their budget was ultimately claimed by mowing expenses, electricity, trash pick-up and ocasionally new equipment, leading them to conduct dinner dance fundraisers for approximately four to five years.
"We got the park paid off in about a handful of years and that was thanks to a lot of donations from people and the Raymond-Harvel Kiwanis and RHSA, who donated a lot of money," said Pinkston.
As far as the bleachers go, they "kinda got lucky," he said.
As Morrisonville Baseball Coach Bob Montgomery was searching for new bleachers, he found that Milwaukee was tearing down their Major League Baseball stadium and retrieved the frame work and built bleachers. When Pinkston heard about it, he asked Montgomery if they could purchase the surplus material for a cheap price.
"They're solid, not going anywhere," he said. "So that's kind of a neat story."
As for the park itself, Pinkston said it didn't start out as a grandiose plan.
"When the park was first built, it wasn't like it is now," he said. "This park has evolved over time. It was pretty much just a baseball field with tennis and basketball courts in the beginning."
During his tenure, several upgrades have been made including fences around the fields and electronic scoreboards. Additionally, pavillions and two concession stands have been contructed, as well as the soccer and softball fields roughly 15 years ago.
"There's been a lot of change and most recently with the Place2Play organization rebuilding the playground," said Pinkston. "There's been a lot over the years, and it seem like it just keeps getting a little better."
Pinkston commended Place2Play Committee Member Amy Brown and the organization for the wonderful job in fundraising and bringing in new equipment for children of all ages.
When Place2Play efforts began, Pinkston noted that a lot of community members submitted new ideas for improvement, and with having grown children, he decided it was time for someone else to take charge.
"I thought 36 years was enough," he said. "I thought it's just time for somebody with kids involved in the park with some new ideas. And maybe a little more energy than I've got now."
Taking over for Pinkston as secretary/treasurer is Daniel Mulch, who was a strong force behind the Place2Play initiative. Serving alongside Mulch are President Kent Sorrells and commissioners Ty Herman, John Terneus and Kent Wagahoff.
"For a town our size, it's a pretty nice park," said Pinkston. "And a day like today, back then there'd be a field full of kids out there."