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New Clayton park dedicated to veterans

Ben Mace
Smyrna/Clayton Sun-Times

Speakers at the dedication of Clayton Veterans Park Aug. 1 said it’s amazing how a small idea can grow into something the community rallies around.

The new park, also the site of the town’s historic marker on Main Street near North Bassett Street, features a 16-foot tall four-sided clock with an old-fashioned look, metal benches, flower beds and a gazebo 12 feet in diameter. The base of the clock has metal plates with a memorial to veterans and the names of major donors. The cobblestones lining the brick walkway are from the town’s original streets.

Master of ceremonies David Mast leads the dedication in front of the clock at the new Clayton Veterans Park Aug. 1.

Master of ceremonies David Mast said the park is beautiful, but also an important reminder of the veterans who fought for our country. He talked about all the planning, fundraising and work that went into the project.

“It’s been a long time coming, from the idea phase to the construction phase. Even the dedication was delayed because of the…virus,” he said, referring to the postponement of the ceremony in May.

Mayor Alex Dias congratulated everyone who was involved with the park in creating “a lasting tribute to those who served and those who continue to serve our country.”

Rev. Dawn Christopher, pastor of Byrd’s AME Church in Clayton, said the park is a symbol of how residents “recognize those who protect our freedoms” and “honor those who stood in the gap for us.”

In her invocation, she thanked God that the park is a bright spot in what has been a gloomy time.

“In the midst of all that’s gone on. It’s been devastating. It’s been depressing. It’s been frustrating, but through it all, you send beauty…. Thank you for something to smile about and give us joy,” she said. “With the beautiful foliage and how wonderful the park looks, you can see the kiss of God.”

The First State Young Marines presented the colors while the Citizens’ Hose Company Band played the national anthem. The band also played the theme song from each branch of the armed services, while veterans from each branch stood during their song to be recognized.

Councilwoman Mary Ellen DeBenedictis read the dedication resolution, just before a train rolled through town on the tracks near the park – an unplanned but fitting addition to the ceremony because of the town’s railroad heritage.

Mast shared memories of growing up in Clayton and recounted how veterans served in key roles in the town as railroad workers, business owners, police officers and firefighters. He told about how the former St. Joseph’s Industrial School became the site of Providence Creek Academy and now the home of First State Military Academy, training the next generation interested in serving our country.

“Clayton was and still is a veterans community,” said Mast.

Eric Young, whose idea sparked the clock and park project, is a veteran who bought the old town hall on Main Street and turned it into a coffee shop which is still operating under a new business owner.

“I wanted to help fix up the town,” he said. “I wanted to keep making improvements.”

Eric Young, a veteran and business owner whose idea sparked the clock and park project, thanks Skip Carrow, Ed Ide and everyone who contributed to turning the idea into reality.

As one of the first members of the town’s Economic Development Committee, he suggested the idea of a town clock, and the other committee members backed the idea and expanded on it.  However, after three years of fundraising resulted in less than $5,000, “we weren’t sure it was going to happen,” Young said.

Councilman Skip Carrow is the one who helped turn the dream into reality, Young said, by pursuing funding for the project from individual donors, the state and county.

“I want everyone to know how lucky we are to have someone like Skip in our community,” said Young.

Young also complimented Ed Ide for designing and leading the construction of the project.

“Look at this place. It’s so nice,” said Young. “They did a great job. It started as my idea, but Skip was the one who followed through and Ed made it happen.”

Young said it’s been rewarding to see how the clock and park have quickly become a focal point of the town.

“I can’t believe how many family photos I’ve seen taken in front of the clock,” said Young, describing how people have used the setting for Christmas card photos, graduation photos and at least one engagement.

“If you build it, they will come,” he said.

Rep. Bill Carson remarked how special it is to “dedicate this park to people who truly love their country,” and he thanked all the legislators from the area who helped back the project including Sen. Bruce Ennis, Sen. Dave Lawson, Rep. Jeff Spiegelman and Rep. William Bush.

Sen. Ennis commended the town leaders and members of the Economic Development Committee for the vision and perseverance to create the park to honor veterans.

“My legislative mentor was a Marine from Clayton, Sen. Jim Vaughn,” said Ennis. “Skip Carrow’s dad would be proud. He was a veteran….These veterans answered our country’s call to arms and did so nobly and with honor. We shall never forget.”

Sen. Lawson thanked everyone for the work and determination to create the park. “Community involvement is the name of the game,” he said.

He also thanked the town for dedicating the park to veterans. “This memorial means a tremendous amount to me,” he said. “It means we will not let them be forgotten.”

Levy Court Vice President Terry Pepper and Commissioners Jody Sweeney and Allan Angel spoke on behalf of Levy Court President Brooks Banta who couldn’t attend the ceremony. They congratulated the town and those who worked on the project and made donations to honor veterans.

“Generations will see the clock and this park and know it’s something to be proud of,” said Pepper.

Before his benediction, Rev. Richard Walton from Ewell’s-St. Paul United Methodist Church in Clayton led the audience in a rousing “thank you” to everyone who helped with the project and to all veterans.

“In memory of those who served our country, let us be mindful of our responsibility,” Walton said. “Let us remember why this park is here.”

Major donors

State of Delaware (Rep. Bill Carson, Sen. Bruce Ennis), Kent County Levy Court (Levy Court commissioners and President Brooks Banta), i3a Engineering & Consulting Management (Ed and Cheryl Ide), EHI Contracting (Ed and Cheryl Ide), Almeda Cole in memory of Earle and Pearl Cole (top individual donor), Eric Young, Clayton Fire Company, William R. (Skip) Carrow II, Harvey W. Scott IV, Clayton Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary.

Donors

Sunbelt Rentals, Lan-Chester Sheds & Gazebos, Delaware Brick, Donna J. Walker, Lucy Jo Iobst, Ed Cox and Tyree Davis.

History of Clayton Veterans Park project

In the summer of 2016 during a Clayton Economic Development Committee meeting, members discussed doing something to draw people’s attention to the business area of town. From a suggestion by committee member Eric Young, an idea was born to install a “town clock” on Main Street. After a couple months, the committee agreed on the type of clock and the location near the corner of Bassett Street. In the fall of 2016, the committee started a campaign to raise about $26,000 for the clock and installation. Committee member Ed Ide suggested a small park at the site and designed it to accompany the clock.

By the spring of 2019 about $5,000 had been raised. Councilman William “Skip” Carrow talked with Rep. Bill Carson about financial support from the state for the project. Carson took the proposal to the General Assembly, and later in 2019 the funds were secured by Carson and Sen. Bruce Ennis. After learning about the project, Kent County Levy Court President Brooks Banta asked about ways to help, and the county approved additional funds to enhance the park.

EHI Contracting started construction on the park in the fall of 2019 and assisted with installation of the clock. The project was finished before Thanksgiving.

The cost was just under $62,000 which didn’t include some donations of services and materials from several companies who worked on the project.