My past involvement with Columbia’s recreation programs and a belief that wholesome outdoor recreation is every person’s birthright prompt me to review some early local experiences. Some of them relate to our beautiful new Stephens land and lake.
In 1935, I was one of eight people who "broke the ice" by being play leaders on Columbia’s first summer playgrounds. We were paid $50 per month, and our checks came from the Water and Light Fund. Shockey Needy, an MU athlete, and I were assigned to Field School; he taught boxing, horseshoe pitching and ball games. We were given $2 worth of craft supplies and a big box of discarded balls and bats from MU. I spent mornings begging for orange crates, cigar boxes and leather scraps from stores and the neighboring shoe factory. Older girls helped little children at the sandbox and with storytelling; some brought extra scissors, pencils and other supplies from home. It was a crude beginning, but we had August displays of craftwork in windows on Broadway - from playgrounds at Ridgeway, Field, Grant and Douglass schools.
At other times, I taught swimming classes and produced water shows and safety demonstrations at the water and light plant pool, taught leather crafts on the second floor of the municipal building at Sixth Street and Broadway, helped reorganize Teen Town and more.
At Stephens College, I taught for nine weeks for a swimming teacher who was ill, and I once was a lifeguard in a rowboat during regular canoeing classes at the lake. Later I helped Miss Wilma Haynes plan and set up the physical education area and dressing rooms in the lower level of the new auditorium on Dorsey Street.
During those times when I was on the Stephens payroll, I spent many evenings at the lake with a fly rod, a willow-leaf spinner and worms. I didn’t catch a lunker but had a bushel of fun with that "sure fire" tackle and bait. My sister-in-law, Ella May Meyers, caught the largest bluegill I ever saw: dark purple, round, as big as a plate.
My childhood memory of "Gordon’s pasture" was when Dad and Mom gave me a half-dollar for "whatever you want" at the Fourth of July picnic. My friends and I raced from one booth to the next, checking out what was available for fun. We bought ice cream cones and bottles of red "sody pop" for our nickels and watched as hucksters "cried" their wares at booths. One fellow was yelling, "A dollar-and-a-half box of candy for a dime!"
All one had to do was to roll a golf ball down a trough, make it touch the end of the trough, roll part way back and stop on a red line. It looked easy. A lot of fellows were paying a dime and rolling those balls.
I tiptoed to see over the framework and got the man’s attention by showing my dime. There were a lot of troughs, and the man finally had collected a dime for each space. On my turn, I rolled, the ball touched the end and came back just enough. I won! The fellow asked, "Do you want five dimes instead of candy?" That way I rolled again. And again. I didn’t win every time, but when it was time to go home I had one box of candy and quite a few dimes in my pocket.
Mom and Dad were horrified at my gambling, but when they started to say, "A fool and her money ..." they smiled at each other and dropped the subject.