About 60 community leaders and family gathered Friday at the site of a new Jasper pocket park for a groundbreaking ceremony, honoring the memory of former Walker County Probate Judge Stanley A. Wade, who died the day before at age 96.
The park, which has been undertaken by the Jasper Kiwanis Club at the northeast corner of 19th Street and Euclid Avenue, will include a sign welcoming visitors to the downtown area of Jasper. The park, which could be leased out or given to the city, is valued at more than $100,000 although the cost has been offset by donations and in-kind services.
Wade, who was probate judge for 18 years, was a longtime honored member of the local chapter of Kiwanis International. Kiwanian Todd Thompson, who was wearing a Kiwanis jacket Wade personally gave him recently, said the park would be named after Wade.
A friend, Jeff Donaldson, said Wade learned about the honor shortly before his death from metastatic melanoma.
The honored guests at Friday's ceremony included the Wade family, including his widow, Louise, and two of Wade's three children, Dr. John S. Wade of Fresno, California, and Helen Louise Wade Johnson of Fernandina Beach, Florida. The ceremony was previously scheduled before Wade's death.
A couple of potential designs for the park were on display, as well as one design for the sign, which will feature Kiwanis logos and aluminum signage and accents, as well as a mural surrounded by stacked Eldorado stone in a rustic ledge, or Clearwater, design. The sign is proposed to be 12 feet, 8 inches wide, and 10 feet, 3 inches tall.
"This project started about 18 months ago with the idea the Kiwanis Club wanted to commemorate 95 years of community service of our club and primarily those who have come before us," Thompson said during the ceremony. "They make up tens of thousands of community service hours and well over $1 million that has been poured into this community, with a focus on the children of Walker County and Jasper."
Thompson noted it started as a mural budgeted at $4,000 and he was tasked with finding a wall. "It kind of grew from that," as Jasper Main Street Executive Director Mike Putman and Dustin Beaty, immediate past president of Jasper Main Street, asked him to consider partnering with Main Street, as the group's design committee was looking at gateway signage. The club was agreeable as a more lasting idea.
"We drove by this lot a hundred times and never noticed it, other than it was a grown up lot," he said. "Then one day it clicked that that would be a great location."
With a generous donation from Wade — who did not request the property be named after him, as that was the club's idea — the property was secured by the club. Jasper Main Street President Jenny Brown Short noted during a visit that the lot included "a lot of wasted space," proposing a pocket park to fill it out.
"And the budget kept going on. We're not a $4,000 mural anymore," Thompson said in recounting the story. "Now we're a $120,000 pocket park and gateway sign."
Partnerships advanced the project, such as from Scott Aaron at A and A Machine, who recommended Bevill State Community Center as it had a water jet machine that will help with aluminum cutting for the signage. Denny Kimbrell, owner of KIMCO Poured Walls, donated labor and concrete to help with the core of the sign. Johnny Bowen of Bowen Construction is also donating site preparation at no cost. Main Street volunteers have agreed to make the park an additional phase of its treescaping project. The Chamber of Commerce of Walker County made a donation, and
Danielle Goins of the Walker County Area Board of REALTORS suggested a Placemaking Initiative grant from the National Association of Realtors, which Main Street helped to apply for. The project was eventually awarded a $2,800 grant, Thompson said.
"Our vision is that we will create a nice space for people to enjoy, both students walking back and forth to school and the neighborhood," Thompson said, as well as provide signage into the historic and revitalized part of the downtown Jasper.
"Don't ask me when we are going to be done," he said. "But we are going to start immediately," including the fabrication and core of the sign. "You will start seeing some progress."
The sign will still include a mural on it, with a blank space on both sides. Mural artist Missy Miles of Hamilton, who has done several murals downtown, will be painting the sign's artwork. Thompson said it is possible the sign could even be repainted in a few years to highlight another aspect of Jasper.
He said Williams Blackstock Architects of Birmingham has been involved in the planning, as has landscape architect Chuck Kelly, who has been involved with landscaping downtown. Chris Green has been involved in the sign's design.
"Everything is being done in a quality manner, because that is what this community deserves," Thompson said.
Thompson paid tribute at the ceremony to Wade.
"Judge Wade was a great man, a gentleman, a tireless community servant," he said. "It think it is a fitting tribute to him to name the park after him."
Thompson said he still plans to approach the city for funding, "but we do anticipate turning the park over to the city as a gift in some fashion."
Short said Main Street is proud to be a part of the project, saying it falls in line with a slogan, "Built for our community by our community."
"Jasper Main Street is so proud of the renaissance and revitalization in downtown Jasper and the completion of this sign is just another step toward the strategic master plan of Jasper Main Street."
Mayor David O'Mary thanked the Kiwanis Club and its vision. He said in working on industrial recruitment over the past 10 years, said in the competition other cities have all Jasper has to offer "and maybe a little bit more."
To make the difference soft issues come into play, such as Gov. Bob Riley's wife's strawberry pie. "That is no made-up thing. They think that was a real contributor in Mercedes-Benz decision to come to Alabama," he said.
O'Mary said projects such as the sign and pocket park speak well for the city's culture, which can make a difference to recruit. "I can tell you this mindset on a broad scale will transition this city from where we are at today to a city of the future," he said.
He also thanked the club for "memorializing a great Kiwanian, a great public servant, a great church leader, and an all-round great person, Judge Stanley Wade," O'Mary said, giving his condolences to the Wade family.
Representing the family, Johnson thanked the crowd for the honor given her father.
"As my Daddy would say, it is way more than what we ever would have ever expected or asked for," Johnson said. "it is a tremendous honor." She said the park and sign will be "a beautiful entry to what Jasper is becoming. It is becoming such a great little town. We are very excited to have grown up here and be a part of it still.
"My father loved this city. He loved the Kiwanis Club. He loved his friends, and we thank you," she said, noting the visitation was that afternoon. The funeral service for Wade is set for today (Saturday) at 11 a.m. at Westside Baptist Church, with burial to follow at Oak Hill Cemetery.