OZAUKEE PRESS EDITORIAL: Ask what you can do for your community

Ask not what your community can do for you, ask what you can do for your community.

That paraphrase of President John F. Kennedy’s deathless challenge to his fellow Americans in his inaugural address was the gist of a letter to the editor in last week’s Ozaukee Press. The writer suggested that volunteers come forward to lend a hand in tending the plantings in Port Washington’s city parks.

The letter was a response to one published in the previous week’s Press in which the writer expressed a Christmas wish that the city would improve its maintenance of parks and restore them to the well-cared-for state he remembered from years past.

These weren’t dueling letters like some this newspaper receives with clashing political views. Both expressed admiration for Port’s beautiful parks and the hope that they would be properly maintained, and both made valid points.

The fact is, it is the city government’s responsibility to maintain public parks. This is a fundamental city service owed to taxpayers.

Yet meeting that responsibility at a high level (weeds pulled, plants thriving, flower beds mulched, everything neat and tidy) with city employees alone is a daunting if not impossible challenge in today’s world. In Wisconsin, that is the world of state tax levy limits that force communities to live with difficult budget priorities. Simply put, street repair and other basic municipal needs trump caring for park plantings.

So, yes, there is a role for volunteers in park care. In fact, a few volunteers have been doing that for quite a while.

For years, expert gardeners Elizabeth O’Connell (the Ozaukee Press gardening columnist) and her husband Tom Hudson (a former Port Washington aldermen) spent untold hours each growing season caring for the plantings in Rotary Park, Fisherman’s Park and Hill School Park.

The immaculate flower garden in the triangular park at the corner of Franklin and Jackson streets—the gateway to the downtown—is entirely a volunteer project. Members of the Ozaukee Master Gardeners not only maintain the garden, with volunteers working on a regular maintenance schedule, but they furnish the flowers, shrubs, grasses and mulch at no cost to the city.

Members of the Port Washington Garden Club, founded with a mission to beautify the city through gardening, have over the organization’s 87-year history planted and maintained flowers and decorative shrubs on a long list of city-owned properties.

No doubt there are other volunteers working in anonymity to beautify the city. Port Washington is, after all, a community with a strong volunteer ethic. Name a cause, and you will see a corps of volunteers carrying the load. The scores who came forward in the past to make the Maritime Heritage Festival a success are examples.

It seems that what is needed is a proactive approach by city officials to marshaling the power of volunteers. Why not appoint a volunteer coordinator to recruit and direct residents who want to help their community? And then make a plan to recognize volunteers in a way that expresses the city’s gratitude for their work.

Volunteers don’t expect to receive any sort of generous reward for their work, but they do want to know that their efforts are appreciated and needed.

In the past, the city threw festive dinner parties at Christmastime for citizens who had been appointed to various committees, boards and commissions as a thank you for their service. Unfortunately, volunteers who helped the city but were not in official capacities were not invited.

Nothing that lavish would be needed for park volunteers, or expected. A modest gesture would suffice—maybe a summer brat fry in Upper Lake Park (sponsors could surely be found to provide food and drink at no expense to taxpayers). With the volunteers assembled, Ozaukee Press would dispatch a photographer to record the image of the group to be published with each volunteer’s name and the type of service he or she gave the city as recognition for their service.

Port Washington’s parks are treasures that add to the beauty and quality of living of this fortunate community at the lake’s edge. We have no doubt that, asked in the right way, residents would come forward to burnish those treasures.


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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