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  • Last modified 120 days ago (May 26, 2021)

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Learning lessons
of the past

This week marks the 100th anniversary of legendary editor E.W. Hoch’s lauding of a Marion landmark so familiar you probably haven’t recognized it as such.

More than a century ago, Thimble Club donated a set of brick pillars with globe lights atop them that for generations have served as the gateway to Marion’s Central Park.

The generosity of what was mainly a women’s sewing club should be remembered not just for its civic-mindedness but also for the nature of the gift.

The pillars remain, 107 years later, stalwart and sturdy additions that subtly enhance the careful natural balance that has been maintained in the park, one of the crown jewels of Marion’s civic features.

These days, all of us are tempted to focus on projects that might disrupt that delicate balance or that aren’t engineered, as the Thimble Club’s was, to serve for centuries not just years to come.

We applaud efforts of Marion Advancement Campaign to invest in Marion’s future, but we are concerned about plans to add a roof to a seldom-used stage-and-restroom complex that dominates views of what otherwise would be natural greenery in the park.

Is it possible to engineer a structure sufficiently resistant to wind so that it can survive on a centuries-long scale? Can it be done without blocking yet more of the park’s natural beauty with the sole reward being that it might be of value for a couple of events annually? Is it really what Marion needs most to not just survive but to thrive for another century?

Too often, noble desires to give something back to the community focus on things that will improve life only in limited situations or for limited groups. Investing in permanent luxuries like the Central Park entry or its two signature fountains seems more in keeping with the goal of adding year-round value for a century or more rather than just fixing a situation for occasional use.

This past week we honored the start of yet another of Marion Advancement Campaign’s laudable projects — groundbreaking for a new food bank to be located at one of the city’s most prominent intersections.

We applaud the generosity of those contributing to support those of modest means within the community but wish this could have been accomplished in a less prominent location, without potentially competing with local businesses, and without using money that traditionally would go toward centuries-long improvements rather than short-term necessities.

Part of leadership is a willingness to look to the distant future rather than to the short-term exigencies of today and to build an infrastructure of overachievement that endures long after today’s challenges have passed.

If our forebears hadn’t been reaching for the stars when they built such things as the hill school, Presbyterian church, Elgin Hotel, and Central Park, there would be precious little special about Marion today.

Nowadays, we’d rather erect non-descript metal sheds and transitory items best reserved for short-term amusement parks instead of making investments like these in long-term beautification.

Efforts don’t have to be costly. A simple plan to always replace every tree removed from city parking would go a long way toward preserving Marion’s beauty a century from now. So would obtaining easements along Luta Creek to create a hiking and bike path from Dogfish Dam to Sugar Mill Dam.

Even less expensive, though shorter term, would be always decorating windows of vacant stores to advertise area attractions like Marion County Lake and the Father Kapaun Museum or to organize a bicycle rally throughout the community and perhaps to the lake and reservoir. Simpler still would be asking city workers to record the names of new residents as they arrive and give them to a group that would follow up with in-person delivery of a basket of local goodies welcoming new residents to the community.

As a community, we have plenty of ideas. What’s needed is a structure to implement them. As time has gone on, that structure has proved to be absent despite formation of such groups as Marion Merchants Association, which rarely attracts more than one or two actual retail merchants.

It’s time for government or private citizens to put their money where their mouth is and create a professional staff that can organize modest events and provide an open and public clearinghouse for more far-reaching proposals.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified May 26, 2021

 

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