Letter: Former parks director remembers Blackwell

From: Chuck Wilt, retired director of Columbus Parks and Recreation Department

The Villages, Florida

On April 29, Columbus lost one of its great advocates and supporters for parks and recreation, Chapman T. Blackwell III, and I lost my mentor and a man whom I loved like a brother. I have known Chap for more than 40 years. He served on the park board from 1965 to 1997 and on the Park Foundation Board since 1997. He also was named a lifetime member of the Indiana Parks and Recreation Association Board in 1997. Chap was also an active member of the National Recreation and Park Association Board Branch. He was a member of the park board when it was recognized for being the best in the nation in 1983 and 1990, and also when the department received the National Gold Medal Award in 1995. Westenedge Park was renamed Chapman T. Blackwell III Park in his honor after he retired from the board.

I worked with Chap as recreation director and in personnel at Cummins. Chap was active on the park board and in 1973 asked me to become an “executive on loan” to help run the Parks and Recreation Department and recruit a new director, which I did. This brief three-month opportunity was a gift from God and rekindled my desire to work in the area I was trained for at Indiana University, municipal recreation management.

In 1977, Chap came to me again and asked me if I wanted to apply for the newly open director of parks and recreation position. I told him I would pray about it, and after prayer and discussion with my wife and children, I did apply and was hired. The next 33 years God blessed me with a wonderful and rewarding career in public service.

I will always have fond memories of working with Chap. He was always challenging me, the staff and park board to be visionary for the betterment of the community. The People Trails, water slide at Donner Center, the first major bond issue to make Hamilton Center an indoor ice arena, the renovation of Lincoln Softball Complex, collaborating with the Driftwood Valley Arts Council and Commons boards to form the Columbus Area Arts Council, are just a few examples of Chap’s leadership as a citizen board member to work with other citizens to make these projects become reality.

Since moving to Florida, my contact with Chap has been by phone and periodic lunchtime meetings when I have visited Columbus the past few years. We would meet at the Elks Club with Harry McCawley, Bill Wilson and other old friends to share stories. I will miss talking with Chap, but I know he is with the Lord now and someday I will see him again in heaven.

Thank God for people like Chap Blackwell. His devotion and dedication have made Columbus a great place to live, work and play.