By Alexis Franklin
Twenty Twenty was to be the 30th anniversary celebration of The Friends of McMichael Park. It was NOT the anniversary year that we had planned. Although we still remember the 29 prior years, and we have much to celebrate.
Looking back over those three decades of volunteer service to McMichael Park, to say the 25 core members of The FOMP group “accomplished much” would be an understatement.
After 30 years of dedicated volunteerism to McMichael Park, The FOMP group was responsible for planting 37 new trees within the park, filling more than 3,000 bags of debris and trash, raising $83,188.00 USD in grants, and an additional $45,000.00 USD in direct fundraising.
Fifteen coats of paint cover Morton the Turtle — the centerpiece of McMichael Park — with The FOMP group giving him a fresh coat every other year.
While the park has had a doggy bag dispensary installed, more than 96,000 doggy bags were used.
All 22 park benches around the park have been painted 15 times during The FOMP group’s tenure.
The FOMP group hosted 200 guests each year for 12 years of “Free Theater” each summer for the annual Shakespeare In The Park series in conjunction with Commonwealth Classic Theatre, and partnered with the Falls of Schuylkill Library to provide 65 total hours of summer story time reading to children by Morton the Turtle.
The FOMP group participated in every annual Love Your Park (formerly Philly Cares) service day sponsored by Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PP&R). That’s 30 years of mulching, planting trees, raking, bagging and pruning.
Every year for the last 21 years, FOMP placed approximately 250 “love lights” on one of the trees in McMichael Park in the lead up to Valentine’s Day. The “love lights” were donated by loving individuals in the greater Philadelphia community, and honored or were in memory of a loved one, person, friend or place … or a furry friend. At present, McMichael Park is still the only park in the City of Philadelphia to hold this kind of annual celebration. It is part of McMichael Park’s unique character, and difference as part of the greater PP&R family.
Over the past two years, McMichael Park has been a stop for PP&R’s summer Parks on Tap (POT) events, a pop-up beer garden that served some 200 attendees each day during its appearance in McMichael Park. The third year of POT was cancelled due to COVID-19.
At all times, there have been four FOMP volunteers to tend to the garden beds located at each of the four street corners of McMichael Park — Henry Avenue at Coulter Street, Coulter Street at McMichael Street, McMichael Street at Midvale Avenue, and Midvale Avenue at Henry Avenue — weeding the bedding, planting flowers and seasonal decorating.
For 18 consecutive years, FOMP received help from students at the William Penn Charter School, with the school encouraging the participation of students for an annual clean up community service and environmental day. In 2020, McMichael Park was able to give back to William Penn Charter, housing temporary outdoor classrooms for students during the fall semester amidst the pandemic. Another landmark and unique difference for The FOMP to help educate and broaden the offering to all students.
For those same 18 years, university student volunteers from nearby Jefferson University marked the start of fall semester with an annual cleanup day in McMichael Park — first as Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science, then later as Philadelphia University before the larger merger with Thomas Jefferson University.
In addition to bestowing honorary volunteer designations to the aforementioned educational institutions, McMichael Park can also count primary school students from Thomas Mifflin School, high school students from Roman Catholic High School and Springside Chestnut Hill Academy, as well as university students from Temple University, all of whom have dedicated time over the years to assisting FOMP with park cleanups. These many students have earned their community service credits in the shadow of Morton as a mentor to all ages in environmental responsibility and as friends of open, green space.
The FOMP has had the distinction of having one of the longest continuously running newspaper columns in East Falls, first with a monthly column in The Fallser Newspaper until 2015, and into the virtual age as an independent monthly e-newsletter.
McMichael Park has played host to elected officials from both the city and state for events as long as there has been an FOMP group:
- One United States senator — Arlen Specter;
- One United States congressman — Chaka Fattah, a park neighbor;
- Two Philadelphia city mayors — Michael Nutter and Edward Rendell. McMichael Park counts the latter as a park neighbor, as the former governor has resided for much of his professional life in East Falls;
- Three PP&R commissioners / executive directors — Kathryn Ott-Lovell, Michael DiBerardinis and William Mifflin;
- Five city council members, past and present — Curtis Jones Jr., Jamie Gauthier, Michael Nutter, Ann J. Land and Joan Specter.
The FOMP group can also count royalty as having visited McMichael Park during its tenure over the last 30 years: Albert II, Prince of Monaco. Grace Kelly, Princess of Monaco, and Albert’s mother, was raised in the Kelly family home across Coulter Street from the park.
In 2017, $65,000.00 USD was spent on restoring the War Memorial, a monument honoring the more than 10,000 residents of 19129 who served in wartime, dating back to pre-colonial days.
In 2020, $250,000.00 USD (donated by Councilman Jones Jr.) was spent on a playground that is intended to serve hundreds of children.
Contrast the 2020 spending with the staggering statistics from the COVID-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, 83,000+ Philadelphians have tested positive for COVID-19, and 2,200+ individuals have died, more than any other county in the State of Pennsylvania. According to Billy Penn, the City of Philadelphia is now seeing 900+ new COVID-19 cases each day, 880+ hospitalizations, and more than 100 deaths in the past seven days.
Unemployment in Philadelphia stood at 17.7 percent, the highest unemployment rate of all counties that make up the metropolitan area. Homelessness stands at about 5,700, according to the Office of Homeless Services. As of Monday, Dec. 15, police recorded 473 homicides, up 39 percent over last year, and more than double that of 2013. Though the stock market might be up, sadly, the number of businesses closing across the city is also increasing — more than 1,000 since March. And with so many people working from home, office occupancy rates are down. The City of Philadelphia has a $749 billion USD budget deficit as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with budget cuts to PP&R planned.
Now we’re counting down to Christmas. Then the New Year … 2021. And then Inauguration Day. And this year especially, every vote counted.
Because well-managed parks and public spaces are more essential than ever, there have been a record number of visitors to McMichael Park this past year. A testimonial to the 30 years of pristine care, management and diligent environmental responsibility. It is a sign of how important green space is to the community, which The Friends of McMichael Park has steadfastly managed and maintained.
A toast and extra thanks to our 25 core volunteers who persevered.
As we head into this holiday season: We give pause as we celebrate, and count our blessings. Ready to rebound in 2021.
Some recent additions to the count …
- One dead sycamore tree that was on the removal list for two years was finally taken down.
- Three tree tags are being installed by The FOMP on the Anniversary trees that were planted in spring 2020.
- Several new mowers were purchased by PP&R. McMichael Park is now on the list for having its leaves mulched in place.
- Ten new DUMOR benches will be installed in the park in 2021.
- Five of the Gift for All Season benches are being replaced. These benches include the Gembala Family Bench, the Linda Koons Bench, the Faye Tyler Bench, The Kubacki Bench, and “The Doon” Bench.