For the love of a park

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Sunday, January 20, 2008
— Pam VanBrocklin didn’t like the helpless, panicky feeling she’d get when visiting Riverside Park and seeing its deteriorating buildings, rusting playground equipment and closed upper road.

“For 17 years, I’d watched the park decline, and it was a real peeve of mine,” she recalled recently.

Most people don’t do much about their peeves except complain.

“I think people (were) waiting,” she said. “They wait for the city, and then they just give up. This park was too great to give up on.”

In July 2006, the park director, who had city money to buy new playground equipment, held a meeting for interested residents. Soon after, VanBrocklin was a catalyst to form Friends of Riverside Park, serving as the group’s first president.

Its goal: to return the once premier park to its glory days.

“She’s very dedicated to that park,” said Art Boehning, a member of Friends, noting that VanBrocklin works well with other people.

“She’s a go-getter, very enthusiastic.”

Before Friends, VanBrocklin was never active politically or a club member. Her priority is family, and she was involved in her children’s organizations as she raised her three sons.

“But I knew this place needed protection, needed help, needed a voice,” she said of Riverside. “Sometimes, it’s just the timing in a person’s life.”

As a park advocate, VanBrocklin attends numerous meetings, including some of the city’s aquatics meetings. The group hopes to reopen the wading pool at Riverside.

She’s put in hundreds of hours of labor, clearing brush, planting bulbs, building the Ice Age Trail and repairing buildings.

She’s reached out to other residents and community groups, such as the Questers, which is writing a grant to repair the park’s turrets.

VanBrocklin wants park-goers and future park-goers to experience the same joy that she did as a child, said Tom Presny, park director.

Presny readily hands VanBrocklin the title of Riverside Park history expert.

She has spent hundreds of hours researching the park’s history and has so far read every edition of The Janesville Gazette from 1919 through 1929.

She won’t let the city forget that Riverside Park is a treasure, Presny said.

“I think Pam exudes energy and excites the people around her to want to get involved and make a difference,” Presny said.

“I truly believe she is making a difference at Riverside Park,” he said. “I wish I had a Pam for every park in the city.”

VanBrocklin quotes the landscape architect who, back in 1924, urged Janesville residents to develop and use the park to its greatest advantage.

Residents must care for the resource for future generations, she said.

“These people sacrificed to give these things to us,” she said. “These gifts aren’t ours to throw away.”

Age: 47.
Community: Janesville.
Family: Husband, Sam; and three sons, Ben, 21, Chris, 17, Alex, 10.
Hobbies: The family members are big boaters and love to ski. They also like to camp.
Favorite movie and favorite book: “Braveheart” and “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Maybe because both are about people who stand up for what they believe.
What historical figure intrigues you? Henry Traxler, Janesville’s first city manager. Her research has convinced her that he “really was an amazing person.”
What’s the one thing you wish you could do? Speak German. “I’m German heritage, and I love it when people speak German.”
What your idea of a perfect day? “Just being with my family and everybody being happy and together. A perfect day is camping to me. You’re out on a lake on your boat and you’re skiing.”
Church: St. Mary Catholic Church in Milton.
Favorite things: Art. History. She loves the Tallman House.

Last updated: 1:37 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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