Playground team back in the game

They became friends during the Possibility Playground volunteer extravaganza. A decade later, they’re back at work for the same great cause.

The Possibility Playground team is reuniting for an expansion project. Three of several team members holding the designs were (from left) Melissa Niemeyer, Heidi Bertler and Greta Schanen. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Countless children and families have spent a myriad of hours enjoying Port Washington’s Possibility Playground, but there was a side effect from the decade-old colossal community construction project.

Lifelong friendships formed among some of the organizers.

Now, when Heidi Bertler, Melissa Niemeyer and Greta Schanen see each other, “it’s like, ahhhhh!” Schanen said.

The trio each had a role in the construction of the playground, an effort spearheaded by special education teacher Mardy McGarry and Sue Mayer, a mother of a child with special needs. Bertler was in charge of child care for the volunteers during the week of construction, Schanen handled communications and Niemeyer managed the nearly 3,000 volunteers.

They happily reminisced about how the playground came together, admitting   that more than once they wondered if it was ever going to happen.

When they agreed to help, none of them realized just exactly what they were volunteering for.

“I had no idea that it was going to be that big,” Niemeyer said. “Looking back now, it was stressful.”

Spreading the word about supporting the universally accessible playground for children of all abilities wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Possibility Playground was the first of its kind of its scope and size in Southeast Wisconsin, and technology wasn’t what it is today.

“It was before the time of social media,” Niemeyer said. “We were literally going door to door.”

For Bertler, managing children’s activities at the playground was a natural fit — she worked with McGarry at Lincoln Elementary School and missed teaching after a bout with cancer.

“That’s what I missed about teaching — reaching for a goal and accomplishing it together,” Bertler said.

Some unique challenges awaited. She never knew the size of her outdoor classroom.

Registration wasn’t required, so Bertler had to hire and design entertainment for an unknown number and ages of children each day.

She also took on a task outside her comfort zone in asking for donations. The mother of two relied on relatives to take her own children to school the week of construction.

“Fortunately, our family stepped it up,” she said. “We still talk about it all the time.”

Niemeyer, a mother of three, and Schanen, who has two children, all received similar family support.

Cooperation among the 10 committee chairs wasn’t an issue. Although they each had their own roles, they were eager to help one another.

“It was all for one, one for all,” Schanen said.

“We do get along. There’s no overbearing personalities,” Niemeyer said.

Schanen added, “We can all be ourselves, too.”

After two years of planning that included working with a community playground  company from New York, the effort paid off.

Niemeyer said so many people volunteered — more than 2,700 — that it became a challenge just to find something for them to do. Some worked one day and then came back for another day of work because they enjoyed it so much.

“That’s why the playground means so much to the community, because everybody had a hand in it,” Schanen said.

Then, all of a sudden, it was over.

Children and families flocked to the fenced-in amenities, including swings, a ship and replica Port lighthouse. The playground has become a point of community pride that is shown off to visitors and newcomers. But the committee meetings, emails and pounding the pavement were gone.

Working closely together on such an arduous project for years, however, had formed bonds.

We became stronger friends because we got through it,” Schanen said.

Somehow, the women, including fellow committee members Stacey Berg, Julie Pfrang, Amy Olsen and Stacy Peters, had to find a reason to get together again.

“We felt like we missed each other, so we made a book club,” Schanen said.

“Then,” Bertler said, “we made it into a cooking club. Then we turned it into hang at Heidi’s house.”

It turns out those friendships are lasting longer than some of the playground’s equipment.

That meant one thing.

“We’re getting the gang back together,” Bertler said. “I said yes to get involved again. It’s my passion.”

In addition to fixing some of the old elements, a merry-go-round will be added thanks to philanthropist Shirli Flack, as well a formal entryway in the form of the Loch Ness Monster named Nessie, courthouse clock tower replica, and replacing some of the musical instruments along with a replica of the Veterans Park bandshell.

A few elements make this effort much easier. Possibility Playground is now a well-known entity and an easy sell, and the scope of the upgrades isn’t nearly as large as the original endeavor. Plus,

Bertler, Schanen and Niemeyer have more time to help since their children are much older now.

And the trio’s experience 10 years ago has concocted some courage.

“We are not afraid to ask anybody for anything now,” Niemeyer said.

After this portion is complete, the equipment will again eventually wear out, but not the relationships.

“You do the job and you’re done,” Bertler said, “but this is everlasting.”

People  are already asking to volunteer to help with construction in September. The 10th anniversary fundraising gala called “A Night with Nessie” will be held from 5:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday at Country Inn & Suites in Port.

The event includes a buffet diner, wine pull, silent and live auctions and live music by Shad Lads, featuring Mopey Wildhagen, Gary Halsey and friends.

Dinner tickets for $25 are still available. They may be purchased at Port Washington State Bank locations and at the Ozaukee Press office. Tickets at 7 p.m. at the door are $10 for the auction and live music.

For more information, call 284-7767 or email

Possibility Playground’s website is



Click Here to Send a Letter to the Editor

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


User login