After a last round of wordsmithing is completed, commemorative markers for the rebuilt Jennie Dean Park will be on their way to final approval.
The Historical Affairs and Landmark Review Board (HALRB) has given its final approval to the two-panel design, which will be placed on a kiosk between two ballfields at the Four Mile Run-area park, whose renovation is in full swing.
The panels are “an excellent representation” of the history of the park, said Carmela Hamm, an HALRB member, noting that in the days of segregation, this was one of the few places where those in the African-American community could go for recreation.
HALRB members in March had proposed some wording changes on the markers, and the body’s ratification of them on April 21 left the door slightly ajar for further “minor and technical changes” to the verbiage.
Robin Stombler of the Green Valley Civic Association said that organization’s history committee had vetted the proposed wording. “There’s a comfort level among the history members that this is presented accurately and in an engaging manner,” she said.
But Gerald Laporte, an HALRB member, said the write-ups on the panels were deserving of a little more scrutiny.
“I actually kind of thought there’d be more revisions,” he said. “Some of the storytelling needs work. I would like the opportunity to submit comments – I have quite a few.”
That said, Laporte expressed appreciation for the overall quality of the proposal.
“These stories are great,” he said.
The panels also now feature revised photography, including some from the Green Valley News, a community newsletter published by neighborhood icon John Robinson.
The front of the panel highlights some of the adult baseball teams that called the park home or played there in the 1960s-70s, including the Green Valley Quicksteps, Green Machine, BG Reds, Moore Enterprises and Ghetto Blacks. Similar pennants also will fly from the outfields of the park’s two diamonds.
The panels also salute some of the other sports played at the park, including tennis, as well as youth pageants that took place there.
What is now known as Jennie Dean Park began life as a private ballfield for minority residents. When the county government purchased it in the 1950s, it gave it the name of Dean (1848-1913), who in 1893 founded what would become the Manassas Industrial School, a post-high school training facility for minority youth across Northern Virginia.
A massive rebuild of the park has been anticipated for years, and now is ramping up. The facility’s pavilion was among the last parts of the old infrastructure to be removed; it was torn down in mid-April.
For now, the focus is decidedly on the park’s future.
“We’re looking forward to seeing it revitalized . . . [and] come to life,” Stombler said.
When the park emerges from its redevelopment, the explanatory markers will sit between ballfields to be named in memory of Robert Winkler and Ernest Johnson.
Winkler, who died in 2008, was raised in Green Valley, was a part-time employee of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation for more than 40 years, and was a longtime youth-sports coach in the community. He helped provide financial support to those unable to pay for recreation programs and aided local athletes competing at regional and national competitions.
Johnson, who died in 1992, in 1950 joined what was then known as the Negro Recreation Section of the county government’s parks department, and during his early years was a key part of the government’s purchase and development of the land that eventually became Jennie Dean Park. Johnson continued with the parks department after it was integrated in 1964, and also served his community by leading Cub Scout packs and in other ways.
Their names were selected for the honor following a survey conducted among residents of Green Valley.