When its renovation is complete, Jennie Dean Park will not just have two modernized ballfields. Those ballfields will have names.
County-government officials plan to name the fields after two men who were instrumental in the history of the park and the surrounding Green Valley community: 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, 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 nearby Green Valley, said Robin Stombler of the Green Valley Civic Association.
Stombler said efforts encouraging the county government to focus on the history of Jennie Dean Park had been ongoing for several years.
“We’re proud of this – this is a home-grown effort here,” she said.
The park fronts Four Mile Run opposite Shirlington, and during the days of segregation in Arlington was one of the very few places the African-American community could go for recreation.
When the rebuilt park opens, those visiting also will find a walkway that includes a history of the Green Valley community, and an historic marker tracing the park’s evolution from private ballfield to the current day. In the outfield of the fields will fly pennants paying homage to the segregated baseball teams that called the facility home decades ago.
When the county government purchased the property in the 1950s, it gave it the name of Jennie 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. In 1938, the facility was taken over by the state government after courts ruled that the Virginia constitution required the government to educate all Virginia youth, not just white youth.