MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 30, 2013

Push to restore park's initial name gains steam

Parks board says City Council should reconsider action

Parks board members voted Wednesday to recommend that city councilors revisit a decision to rename a Muskogee park for a benefactor whose family trust has supported several projects.

The move came after weeks of criticism from Robison Park Community Association members, whose organizing efforts helped spur early support for the development of the neighborhood park. A letter written by Mike Ruby in support of the association’s “petition to restore the name of the park to Robison Park” sealed the deal.

Ivory Vann, the president of the neighborhood association, said the proposal to rename the park after Russell Ruby reflected city officials’ focus on the future while “forgetting about the past.” Association members said that changing the name to Ruby Park erased an important part of the neighborhood’s history.

Ruby, in his letter offered on behalf of his siblings and the Russell Ruby Family Trust, said the family never felt it necessary to name the park after Russell Ruby, a Muskogee lawyer who had been a city councilor and acting mayor. The only reward ever sought by the Ruby family for its financial support “was the knowledge we had facilitated a benefit to the community,” he wrote.

“We learned that the (name) change stirred controversy in the community. ... We have also become aware of the importance the neighborhood places in continuing to honor one of their own,” Ruby states in the Oct. 25 letter, noting adding concern that the park was renamed without consulting neighborhood residents. “We very much appreciate the intent of naming the park for Russell Ruby. However, given the circumstances ... I urge you to support the petition to restore the name ... to Robison Park.”

Ward III Councilor Randy Howard, who is the chairman of the parks board, said the recommendation was an effort to “try and make things right.” Howard, who curtailed Vann’s presentation, said he supported restoring the original name because “that’s what you (Vann) want, that’s what Ruby wants, and that is what the association wants.”

Although Vann supported the board’s recommendation, he was frustrated about what he considers to be a misconception by some city officials that RCPA “contributed very little” to the development of what is now Ruby Park. He said the association’s efforts were key to the city’s ability to secure grants used to fund park improvements made during the past few years.

Those early efforts were even recognized in 2012 by County Commissioner Gene Wallace, who described RPCA’s effort to develop the park as an “incredible” contribution to “the neighborhood and the children for generations to come.” Wallace made the comment in support of an application by city officials for a trails grant that funded the most recent improvements.

The 30-acre park in southeastern Muskogee is on land sold to the city by William Robison, a prominent Muscogee (Creek) Nation citizen and local developer.

The land sat idle for decades until neighborhood organizers joined in 2005 to push for its development.

After nearly five years of fundraising and lobbying of city officials, work began on the park in 2009. The park, built in three phases, now has a splash pad, basketball courts, a playground and trails.

Ward III Councilor Derrick Reed said he would support the recommendation to rename the park again. He said he believes that the move will “bring peace and harmony” to an issue that has become “longtime battle.”

“I visited with the members of this organization, and I heard their voices,” Reed said. “They are a valuable resource to our community and they deserve recognition for the work they have done.”

City councilors are expected to consider the recommendation Tuesday at the Public Works Committee meeting.

Reach D.E. Smoot at (918) 684-2901 or dsmoot@muskogeephoenix.com.

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