By LUKE BLAKESLEE
MILFORD — Sift through your family photo albums from the last 20, 30, 40, even 50 years and chances are pretty good you’ll come across a picture of someone in your family enjoying a sunny day at Waubee Lake Park in Milford. Now, look closely and you’ll see the playground has remained mostly, if not completely, unchanged: a towering metal slide, a skyscraper jungle gym, a speedy merry-go-round and perfectly lazy swings on long chains.
While it’s fun to reminisce, Joellen Free, town clerk of Milford, noticed last summer over the years the famous equipment had deteriorated little by little to the point it needed more than just a facelift. It needed replaced.
“The equipment was in rough shape and was almost an eyesore at an otherwise beautiful park,” said Free. “My friends and I used to play on the playground as little girls, but at that time it was still at the old Milford school. It occurred to me that if we could raise enough money we could do something that should have been done a long time ago.”
She would soon find out just how much money — nearly $80,000. Joellen immediately began the daunting task of filling out grant applications. “Our community is so blessed to have organizations like K21 Health Foundation and Dekko Foundation,” she said. “Our project needed the jump start from their donations in order to really get going.” After receiving a matching fund offer from K21, Free applied for and received a grant from Dekko, Phend & Brown, Milford Kiwanis and an out-of-the-blue anonymous donor.
With the funds fully raised, work began last fall and winter with the brand new equipment installed during the first week of December. “It was the coldest weekend of the year but they were out there working hard for us. We couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.”
On Saturday, June 10, on behalf of all who dedicated time, money, and energy to the project, Joellen and the town of Milford, as well as the Milford Kiwanis and K21 Health Foundation, invite the entire Kosciusko County community to a Day at the Lake Festival to help dedicate the new equipment and kick off another summer at Waubee Lake Park. The festival will follow the third annual Milford Kiwanis 5K Run/Walk, and will include hot food and cold soft drinks for sale, as well as games and activities for the whole family.
The Kiwanis 5K will be one of the first ways the public will be able to enjoy the new playground. After following scenic trails near Camp Mack and Waubee Lake, runners will finish the race back at the park where the festival will await them. “We’re so excited about this year’s event,” said Kiwanis race director Paula Stokes. “We’ll have runners of all ages, and this year we’re introducing a $50 cash prize to the overall male and female winners.”
The 5K is just one fundraiser organized by the Kiwanis. The proceeds will allow the club to contribute toward various charitable organizations in the Milford area, like New Beginnings Childcare, Harvest with a Heart, Boomerang Backpacks, and Riley Children’s Hospital, as well as special projects at Milford School, to name a few. Like the new playground, the other causes supported by the club are centered on helping children in the community.
“That’s why all are welcome to the 5K and Day at the Lake,” continued Stokes. “Run or walk for fun, then celebrate a new playground with food and games, all while contributing toward a good cause. It’s a perfect way to spend a Saturday in June.”
The 5K will begin at 9 a.m. with the festival wrapping up when all the burgers are sold. Sign up for the race at www.runsignup.com, or call (574) 658-4073 for race and donation information.