At the standing-room-only fete for Fred DeVictor last week at the Holcom Rec Center, I listened to speeches extolling the city's retiring parks and recreation director.
Then I watched DeVictor accept an obligatory set of golf clubs, and I saw him visibly humbled by the decision to re-name Green Belt Park in his honor.
Only later, after reading DeVictor's biography on a card handed out following the ceremony, did I notice the similarity in our lives. DeVictor is little more than a year younger than I, and he came to Lawrence a little more than a year after I did.
DeVictor was 27 years old when he arrived to become assistant city recreation director, and that's how old I was when I became sports editor of the
Journal-World. Prior to
DeVictor's hiring as assistant city recreation director, he had worked at two other jobs - in Arlington, Va., and Wooster, Ohio. Me, too. I had worked in Hutchinson and Lincoln, Neb., before coming to Lawrence.
Moreover, we both retired about the same time in our lives - me after nearly 37 years as J-W sports editor and DeVictor after a little more than 37 years with the city rec department.
That's where the similarities end, however, because my impact on Lawrence was minimal compared to DeVictor's. What he accomplished is staggering when you consider how crappy the city's recreation facilities were when I arrived in late 1968.
Even today when I tell people that men's slow-pitch and youth baseball shared a common diamond in South Park, they have difficulty envisioning where the diamond was. Most want to place it in the northwest corner of the west side of the park split by Massachusetts Street.
But the backstop was actually on the northeast corner of the park's west half, right on Mass Street. Drive by there today and try to imagine that corner of the park with a ball diamond delineated by a snow-fence outfield barrier.
Lawrence's dearth of youth baseball facilities at that time led to the formation of the Douglas County Amateur Baseball Association, a private group that built diamonds of its own at the 4-H Fairgrounds.
Finally, in the early 70s, the city was able to build Holcom Complex on land located southwest of the rapidly growing 23rd and Iowa streets intersection. Three diamonds were ticketed for youth baseball - including one larger diamond for the American Legion team - and the other was dedicated to slow-pitch.
For years, there was an uneasy peace among those who believed Holcom should be a youth-only facility and those who thought adults deserved a nice place to play, too.
When at last in the late 90s the city built Clinton Lake Softball Complex, a strictly adult facility, Lawrence had transitioned from a shared diamond in South Park to a shared facility in Holcom Complex to separate ball sites for youth and adults.
DeVictor also presided over the expansion of old Municipal Pool, the construction of the Lawrence Indoor Aquatic Center and the opening of Eagle Bend, the links that wiped out Lawrence's shameful distinction as the largest city in Kansas without a municipal golf course.
Sure, we'll need more parks and more recreation facilities over the next three-plus decades, but DeVictor's legacy is secure. He's the man who brought Lawrence out of the parks and recreation Dark Ages.