Party at Pagoda Circle Celebrates the Forever Campaign’s Remarkable Success
Guest blogger Tim Fox joined us for our free public celebration Party at Pagoda Circle on Wednesday, April 11. During the festivities he chatted with a few people about what Forest Park means to them. Photographs by Dave Moore.
“This is the most fun thing I get to do as mayor!” the Hon. Lyda Krewson, mayor of the City of St. Louis, told hundreds of people gathered at Pagoda Circle on April 11 to celebrate the success of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park’s Future.
The campaign has raised $139 million in gifts and pledges to expand Forest Park Forever’s endowment for maintenance and to fund critical improvement projects — $9 million more than its $130 million goal.
“Forest Park is a great, great success story,” Krewson continued. “It results from a unique partnership between Forest Park Forever and the City of St. Louis. Cities around the U.S. look to us and ask how we did it. Well, we did it with generosity and love for Forest Park.”
The mayor was the first of several dignitaries to address the enthusiastic crowd at the free public celebration. Forest Park Forever President and Executive Director Lesley Hoffarth; Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry for the City of St. Louis Greg Hayes; Chairman of the Forest Park Forever Board Larry Thomas; and Campaign Chair John Ferring all took turns at the mic. But through all of their remarks, one theme emerged: Party at Pagoda Circle was a celebration of how everyday people can enjoy this great park.
One of those folks was Mike Hrdlicka, sharing a spot on the grass with his wife, Debby. He remembered the day, 60 years ago, when Marlon Perkins personally hired him to work at the Saint Louis Zoo — for 83 cents an hour.
“I worked in the kitchen, where we prepared food for the animals,” he recalled. “One day the spitting cobra went missing. I had to crawl around on the ground wearing safety goggles to find him. He’d gotten stuck under a cabinet after eating all the mice we kept as food. He’d gotten too fat to get out!”
“Forest Park has been part of our lives ever since,” he continued. “Five years ago, our son got married at the World’s Fair Pavilion, and we are season ticket holders to the Muny.”
Across Pagoda Circle, members of another generation danced to the sounds of FatPocket, the high-energy band playing at the party. Three-year-old Lulu spun joyfully with her friend, eleven-year-old Ashley.
“Lulu is my neighbor’s child, and she thinks the statue of King Louis IX on Art Hill is her statue, because her name is actually Louisa,” Ashley’s mother, Catherine Buehre, said. “She was baptized on the 250th anniversary of the founding of St. Louis.”
A Forest Park Forever member, Buehre grew up in Kirkwood but recently moved to the City. Visiting Forest Park and crossing the “bouncy bridge” — the suspension bridge that leads to Picnic Island — is a daily ritual for Catherine, Lulu and Ashley.
Sitting near the water, Forest Park Forever volunteer Erma Perry called Forest Park “the jewel of the city” and remembered roller skating every day in the summer at Steinberg Skating Rink and throwing pennies in the Emerson Grand Basin. “And if you ever needed money, you could just reach in and scoop some out!’ she joked.
“City girl” Martha Evans also recalled skating at Steinberg as a kid, though she grew up near Tower Grove Park. She now lives in Webster Groves, but still jogs regularly in Forest Park. When a friend visiting from California gave her $100 to donate to a St. Louis organization, the choice was easy.
“I gave it to the Forever campaign because I appreciate the Park so much,” she said. “Everyone in this community is so fortunate to have Forest Park. Donating to the campaign just felt good.”
Forest Park’s appeal reaches longtime St. Louisans as well as those just making a home here, as demonstrated by the founder and former chair of the Young Friends of Forest Park Forever, Sisi Beltrán. She grew up in Puerto Rico, but she fell in love with the park as a student at Washington University’s Olin School of Business.
“I didn’t have a lot of grass at home, so running in Forest Park was a real treat,” said Beltrán, attending the party with her mother-in-law, Joann Martí. “In 2013, I organized the Young Friends group when I realized Forest Park Forever needed support from young professionals.”
Nearby, Great Rivers Greenway CEO Susan Trautman was enjoying the party with colleagues. “Forest Park is a hub for our greenway projects,” she said, “and Forest Park Forever is a critical partner for our work.”
As Forest Park Forever Board member Carol Klein watched the celebration just a few yards away, she reflected on her personal reason for supporting the organization and the Forever campaign.
“I’ll have my first grandbaby in May,” she said, “and the great success of Forever: The Campaign for Forest Park’s Future guarantees that Forest Park will be here and be in good shape for him and for his kids.”
To learn more about the projects and improvements the Forever campaign is making possible, visit www.theforevercampaign.org.