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Column: Gift pays debt for 1965 boyhood vandalism


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Early 20th century street lamps, like the one above in front of a downtown residence, were once scattered throughout Donner Park until they were removed in the 1980s. One of the lamps was damaged in 1965 by rock-throwing youngsters, and last month one of those involved, now a senior citizen, sent Parks Department officials a cashier's check for $200 to atone for his actions.
PHOTO BY HARRY McCAWLEY
Early 20th century street lamps, like the one above in front of a downtown residence, were once scattered throughout Donner Park until they were removed in the 1980s. One of the lamps was damaged in 1965 by rock-throwing youngsters, and last month one of those involved, now a senior citizen, sent Parks Department officials a cashier's check for $200 to atone for his actions. PHOTO BY HARRY McCAWLEY


FOLKS at the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department have an extra $200 to work with this year.

They can use it. Things have been tough on the department during the past few years. All city departments have taken hits because of some pretty severe budget cuts, but none more so than the Parks Department. The cutbacks in capital expenditures alone have been in the 6-figure level.

The $200 the department received last month was unexpected.

In fact, no one knows who sent it or where it came from.

Jessica Prowant was the first department staffer to see the gift. It came in the department’s daily mail package.

Save for the department’s address, the envelope was blank. There was no return address.

“I completely forgot to check where it was mailed from,” Prowant said last week. “I was just surprised at what was inside.”

The contents were a cashier’s check for $200 and a typed note dated Jan. 13, 2013.

It read:

“Enclosed you will find a check for $200 to add to the Parks Department budget.

“In 1965, when I was a boy, a group of us threw rocks at and broke a park light globe in Donner Park, near the tennis courts. I have always regretted that incident and my behavior. Thus the enclosed check to help make amends.”

It closed with:

“From a child now grown.”

After reading the note, Prowant composed one herself to other park department staffers — “You won’t believe what we just received.”

She was right.

The disbelief re-surfaced several days later when a copy of the letter was provided to The Republic.

“We don’t know how that copy got to the newspaper,” said Katia Hatter, marketing and public relations director for the department. “We hadn’t decided on whether we should publicize this, but after thinking about it we concluded that it was a good story that needed to be told.”

Prowant seconded that notion.

“Vandalism to park property has become such a major problem these days,” she said. “This letter and the money are kind of uplifting because it shows that someone who did this is ready to make amends even after so long a time.”

Actually, the Parks Department probably made a profit out of the exchange.

“I went online to check what globes like this are selling for these days,” said Nick Rush, maintenance director for the department. “You can buy them for $100.”

It’s likely that the atonement money will not go to a globe replacement.

The antique poles on which globes like this had been mounted were removed from Donner Park in the late 1980s.

“We’re not sure how long those light poles had been in the park,” Rush said. “However, they might go back to the time when the park was first developed.”

The park’s origin goes back to 1916, when wealthy industrialist William Donner, who was born in Columbus but made his fortune in the steel industry in Pennsylvania, turned over a significant plot of land on the outskirts of the city proper to the community.

The park was quickly developed and Donner again lent a hand by providing money for a shelter house — still standing — in 1923. In 1947, he made another significant donation, which was used for Donner Pool.

Although the light poles were removed in the late 1980s, several of them are still in use.

“Originally, Larry Hoffman (who was working on the plan by officials of Arvin Industries to restore and expand the old Garfield School into a headquarters complex for Arvin Industries) had purchased the poles to be used as part of the headquarters complex,” Rush said. “However, the Arvin folks changed their mind, and Larry offered them for sale on a piecemeal basis. In fact, I have one of them in my yard at home.”

I’m not sure how the $200 will be used, but I hope the original letter will not be discarded. It’s something that should be framed and put in a place were lots of people can see it.

Like Prowant said, it is kind of uplifting.

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