Panel spotlights Bulloch Rec. Dept.’s 75-plus years for Historical Society (2024)

Did you know? The Statesboro Recreation Department, which is now the Bulloch County Recreation & Parks Department, produced both the second person to be named to the Georgia Recreation and Park Association Hall of Fame – Max Lockwood – and the fourth person so honored – Honey Bowen.

For decades the department, now in its 76th year, has been headquartered in the Honey Bowen Building at 1 Max Lockwood Drive. Meanwhile, the park that was originally Blitch Street Recreational Center, on what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, is now Luetta Moore Park, honoring the memory of the woman who directed that facility for 29 years, from its origins as a park for the Black community during segregation.

During a program Monday about the Recreation Department’s first 75 years, the Bulloch County Historical Society also heard about the vanished Pav-a-Lon and past traditions such as the annual children’s Fishing Rodeo co-sponsored for 25 years by Robbins Packing Co.

The three members of the society’s presenting panel embodied some of that history.

Robert Tanner, now 81 and then 5, was the first child signed up for the Recreation Department’s inaugural season in 1948. He later worked for the department during high school and for four more years after attaining a college degree in recreation. Frank Hook worked for the department part -time from age 14, every summer through high school and college and, also after getting a degree in recreation at Georgia Southern, served the department full-time from 1972 to 1979 as program director, then athletic director, then recreation director. Ed Nelson, after 36 years with the Recreation Department, retired in 2020 as facilities manager.

They fielded questions pitched by emcee Joe McGlamery, president of the Historical Society and of the Statesboro Herald.

“The Bulloch Herald in its edition of February 12, 1948, announced that it was going to happen. …,” he said, displaying a slide of the newspaper article. “This is the story that really announced what was going to happen on April 1. This front-page story announced that Max Lockwood had been hired to be the director of the new recreation center at a salary of $3,000 a year.”

Lockwood, a World War II veteran, was the first recreation director hired for a Georgia city as small as Statesboro, which in the 1940s had a few more than 5,000 residents.

Beginning in the immediate post-war years, Honey Bowen lobbied city officials, beginning with her husband, W.A. “Bill” Bowen, a Statesboro City Council member in charge of finances who would later serve 20 years (1953-1973) as mayor, to establish a recreation program for Statesboro’s children and youth.

“It was a beautiful story about a beautiful lady, a Southern lady, full of charm and full of feist. She didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer,” Hook narrated. “But in 1946 there was a vision in her mind. She cared deeply about young people, and she cared about families.”

One day in January 1948, after the couple had breakfast at their home on Savannah Avenue, Bill Bowen went his office at City Hall, Hook said. Honey Bowen showed up there and had her husband’s secretary knock on his door for a 9 a.m. appointment that supposedly only Mrs. Bowen and the secretary had known about.

Panel spotlights Bulloch Rec. Dept.’s 75-plus years for Historical Society (1)

Honey Bowen told her husband she was there on business, according to Hook’s retelling.

“She sat down and she quickly said, ‘We’re going to have a recreation program in the city of Statesboro, and I need $3,000 to start that program.’ Bill said, ‘We don’t have that kind of money in the city of Statesboro to do that.’

“She stood and looked straight at him and said, ‘Find it,’” Hook continued. “And the rest is history. And Bill Bowen and the City Council found that money.’”

But the $3,000 only covered Lockwood’s salary, leaving him to raise money and recruit volunteers, McGlamery explained. The Rotary Club and other civic organizations donated, and the Herald’s publishers advocated for the cause.

Hook also narrated the part where “a sweet lady named Mattie Tanner” took her young son by the hand and walked him into the new Recreation Center on April 1, 1948, so that he became the first child signed up to participate in its programs. Later that year, the city-owned site between Zetterower Avenue and what is now Fair Road was named Memorial Park.

Boxing and a zoo

“When I started participating at the Recreation Department, the only thing I can remember being there was a rope over a sand pile, and if you got in a fight, Max had boxing gloves (child-size) and let you fight it out over the sand pile,” said Tanner, almost 76 years later. “We played ball on the football field.”

Not just football, but also softball and baseball, were played on the same field at first.

Soon some clay basketball courts were added, and activity clubs were created for children, teens and “tweens.”

“Tell us about the zoo, Robert,” McGlamery had said.

Panel spotlights Bulloch Rec. Dept.’s 75-plus years for Historical Society (2)

“Not many people remember we had a zoo down there,” Tanner followed through. “We had peaco*cks, we had birds, we had rabbits, we had squirrels, and we had a monkey, named Jigs, and Jigs got out one day, and that was quite a commotion around town, trying to find Jigs.”

Jigs was, at last, found and returned to the zoo.

A swimming pool had also been added, opening June 1, 1949, just 14 months after the recreation program started signing up participants. Swimming lessons cost 10 cents, Tanner recalled, but Lockwood let teenagers work, supposedly 10 hours a week, to earn a summer-long pass to the pool and activities.

Eventually, men’s and women’s sports teams were added and a church league created, Tanner noted, tracing the recreation center’s development into the 1950s.

Shack & Pav-a-Lon

“The Snack Shack, Max built that, and that was a little building behind the main center,” he said. Besides a snack bar, the “shack” featured ping pong tables and, on Saturday mornings, children’s movies, such as “Little Rascals” shorts.

The Pav-a-Lon, a picnic and activity pavilion beside the pool, was added by the time Tanner was in high school and was working at the park. On many Tuesday and Thursday nights, Statesboro radio station WWNS would do remote broadcasts from the Pav-a-Lon, Tanner recalled.

The Statesboro Jaycees raised money and worked to establish Jaycees Little League Field, which opened at Memorial Park in 1967. Rodney Harville, who chaired the project for the Jaycees and is now a Historical Society member, brought the ball from the opening game to Monday’s meeting.

Only 10 cities in Georgia had recreation departments when Statesboro’s was established in 1948, and Statesboro was the smallest city to have one, Hook said.

“In what would be considered a very bold move today, Statesboro started a recreation program that many a big city said would never last and would never be successful, but they didn’t know Honey Bowen, and they didn’t know Bill Bowen, they didn’t know Max Lockwood,” he said.

“Over the years there were many cities larger than Statesboro that came to Statesboro to say, we’re bringing our staff, we want to copy and pattern what you’re doing,” Hook continued .“Statesboro Recreation Department won many awards through the years as one of the best small-city recreation programs, not just in the state of Georgia, but in the entire Southeast.”

Luetta Moore

The Blitch Street Recreation Center had a community center in the 1950s, and the Blitch Street pool opened in 1960.

“In 1964 that community building was renovated and remodeled, and Mrs. Luetta Moore, longtime director and a wonderful, wonderful human being, ran than recreation program,” Hook said.

According to her 1986 obituary, Moore worked for the Recreation Department from 1956 until her retirement in 1985. She was also recognized by the Georgia Recreation and Park Society for her dedication and outstanding community service.

Mill Creek & Splash

Major later developments in the growth of Bulloch Recreation and Parks included the establishment of Mill Creek Regional Park, which opened in 1992, and the addition of Splash in the Boro waterpark.

“You talk about a bold move,” said Nelson, speaking of the creation of Splash in the Boro while the late Mike Rollins was recreation director and with support of the county commissioners.

A majority of the local public also backed it through a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, and Splash opened in 2004 with an original $5.3 million investment. Expansions and upgrades in 2009 and 2016-2017 cost $4.4 million and $5.7 million, respectively.

Last season, the waterpark received more than 150,000 visits by people from around the region, he said.

Now the department also operates community parks in Brooklet, Portal, Nevils and Stilson.

Panel spotlights Bulloch Rec. Dept.’s 75-plus years for Historical Society (2024)


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