Mt Pleasant News

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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 21, 2018

Community members of Mt. Union invest in park to start healing process

Oct 03, 2017
Photo by: File photo Members of Imagine Recreating Mt. Union are in the process of purchasing the former city park with hopes of adding onto the playground. The non-profit organization hopes to help heal the community following its unincorporation due to financial debt earlier this year.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


MT. UNION — Donna Preston is determined to help the unincorporated town of Mt. Union come back together as a community, one property at a time.

When it was made public that the park previously owned by the former city of Mt. Union would be auctioned off in June, Preston approached the nonprofit group Imagine Recreating Mt. Union, asking them if they would buy the park from her if she were to place a bid.

“Sometimes you do things for the good and not just for you,” Preston said.

Imagine Recreating Mt. Union took Preston up on her offer with an enthusiastic yes. Three months later, they are in the process of purchasing the park from Preston, with plans to add a two- to five-year-old playground.

“Without Donna, we would not be able to save the park,” said Robyn Buffington, committee member of Imagine Recreating Mt. Union.

Imagine Recreating Mt. Union was formed around the need for a playground then, and today, Preston wants the park to stand as a symbol of unity.

The group originally raised the funds for the city to build the park in the early 2000s when one swing and a damaged slide wasn’t cutting it in the community. They raised $32,000 in five years for the park and equipment, said Kim Fenton, Imagine Recreating Mt. Union committee member. The Gazebo was donated by three brothers, Dennis, Miles and Duane Krieger in Sept. 2008.

The park was named Eagles Landing Park when it was built after the former Mt. Union High School’s mascot. Imagine Recreating Mt. Union hopes to get a plaque with the park name. The original bell for the second Mt. Union schoolhouse was donated to them for park use. They are planning on building a brick display for the bell.

“There’s a lot of emotions in that town,” Preston said. “What I want is healing and a ‘kids come first’ kind of thing.”

Fenton thinks it’s been “utterly amazing” since the town has been unincorporated. Imagine Recreating Mt. Union committee member Mandi Mullin doesn’t quite agree. She has watched the town change immensely, not just since they have been unincorporated, but since she knew the town as a child.

“For me it’s been more of a sad situation to see businesses leave,” Mullin said. “I’ve always been hopeful that the community can come together and have some sort of healing. Trying to adjust to an unincorporated lifestyle is where we’re at now.”

To keep the park, Fenton said they will fundraise in the community and write grants to keep the electricity on, replace the wood chips and pay for insurance. They hope to work with the Mt. Union Booster Club to hold holiday events in the park like they did before the town was unincorporated.

“Just because we are an unincorporated community doesn’t mean we aren’t still a community,” Mullin said. “We need to come together.”

Preston bought the park property for $3,500. She is selling it to Imagine Recreating Mt. Union for $3,000. She finds a community park so important that she wrote in the deed that if the property is ever used for something other than a park, it reverts back to Preston or her heirs.

Preston said that families don’t always get along, husbands and wives divorce, and she has watched the park serve as a neutral “drop off” point for families going through a rough time to get their children from household to household. She said people need that.

“I just can’t think about anything bad about having a park,” Preston said. “There was a young man who even in the hottest days (of the summer) was over in the park playing basketball,” she added.

Preston isn’t a resident of the former Mt. Union or even a Henry County native. Although now she lives halfway between Mt. Pleasant and Mt. Union, she is originally from Kansas. But much of the work she does is in the name of her late husband, Leo Preston, of Mt. Pleasant.

“With Leo gone, yeah, I like to keep busy,” Preston said, adding that she also bought Mt. Union’s former high school as an investment and plans to turn it into an apartment building. “I had several people a couple weeks ago point out that it’s been two and a half years and that I should move on. And I looked at them and said just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I’m lonely.”

Preston has an affinity for small towns. Born in Kansas City, Mo., Preston threatened to move in with her grandmother when her parents moved to Jennings, Kan., when she was 11-years-old. Her infatuation with the city changed, however, when she visited her grandmother in Kansas City a few years later and observed her locking herself in the house during the day and bolting herself in at night.

“Out in Kansas, if I wanted to sleep outside, I would throw a sleeping bag on the picnic table and watch the stars and listen to the birds,” Preston said. “My folks didn’t worry where I went. I love the small-town life.”

When asked what she thought her husband would say to her buying town property, she said, “You don’t want to know the statement he’d say. He always knew I was not normal,” she answered with a laugh.

Members of Imagine Recreating Mt. Union met with Preston in the park on Sept. 15 to hold a signing ceremony; however, there’s an issue with the property description and they are unsure when the park will officially be under Imagine Recreating Mt. Union’s ownership.

“God gave us gifts to share,” Preston said. She doesn’t want people thinking that because it isn’t city property anymore that they aren’t responsible for taking care of it.

“It’s our park and we should all do our part,” Preston said.

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