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LAMBSBURG — Neighborhood residents feel like they have a place to go for recreation, now that the Lambsburg community group has added the Frank Hawks Memorial Park at the former elementary school.
The old expanse of asphalt has been patched, painted and transformed into a standard-sized tennis court and a regulation basketball court with a new 14-by-24-foot picnic shelter nearby. New swings and playground equipment stand in a shock-absorbing bed of sand — ready for use for those willing to brave the summer heat.
The park in memory of the late educator and community leader won't be dedicated until the fall, when it's cooler, but children already play there in the evening after the temperature falls off.
"We just love it, because we don't have to ride all the way to Cana," explained Jewel Greer, a grandmother who's also the community's postmaster. "What used to look like a ghost town over there, it's gorgeous."
She probably takes her granddaughter over there two or three nights a week, venturing out after 7 p.m.
Seeing people gathered there again reminds her of the time when children used to attend the school. Greer said that, for a long time after it closed, children didn't play there anymore.
Now she sees happy parents, happy children and happy grandparents.
The directors of the Lambsburg Community Complex deserve a lot of credit, because they have put a lot of hours into turning the empty school into a useful place again, Greer said.
Cruz Perez indicated he thought it was cool to live next to a park. "We got a playground in our backyard," he said before he took advantage of the hoops and the swings.
Dekota Perez looked forward to getting some tennis rackets and trying that court.
Community group President Phillip Berrier — a former Lambsburg school principal — gave credit to the late Frank Hawks for getting the non-profit off the ground. "Frank was instrumental in getting this donated from the county to the community group and got it going."
Berrier and Hawks had been working together fundraising, getting donations from United Way to undertake projects like these, before he died.
Many donations came in memory of Hawks, and Berrier felt it was appropriate to put those funds toward a park that would bear his name.
The project grew beyond Berrier's expectations, after other people got involved.
Contractor Larry Lowe donated his labor, posts and wood for the picnic shelter, for example.
The community group put down the slab and built the roof for the shelter.
Stephen Button, a chiropractor in Mount Airy, N.C., made much of the improvements on the tennis court possible.
He purchased the green and red clay paint to mark the court, the paint to freshen up the fence around it, and the posts and the nets. The paint for the fence alone, Berrier knows, cost about $1,000.
By the time this phase of work is wrapped up, Berrier expects the community group will have expended about $13,000, while another $10,000 or so has been donated.
United Way has given considerably and that, plus the donations in Hawks' name, will go a long way toward paying for the work.
The community group continues fund-raising, and Berrier expects to have the needed amount by the end of July.
Donations came in from educators, businesses and people who knew Hawks from Galax to Hillsville to Mount Airy.
"I just thought it was a good way to remember Frank," Berrier said. "He was a people person, an educator and involved in the community... it was a good way to remember his life."
The activities already available at the community center — a soccer field; a library; and space to hold private functions, music jams, cruise-ins, events on special occasions and more — make good use of the facility.
"I think this is a good way to utilize this old school building," Berrier said. "I hope it will give the [county] supervisors some ideas about how to use the old Woodlawn school.”
Woodlawn has a gym, cafeteria space and grounds that could make it a great recreation center after it closes, Berrier expects.
Lambsburg isn't finished, though. Berrier hopes that Eagle Scouts would build benches and a barbecue grill to complement the picnic shelter.
It would also be nice to see a rail fence with plantings and some trees to provide shade. After that, Berrier believes a walking trail that rings the perimeter of the property would provide a safe place for residents to get some exercise.
These outdoor improvements should make the community center even more attractive to residents.
"I think it will be more appealing to rent the indoor facilities, because you've got the playground outside," he said. "I think it will become a true community center, now that we have more facilities to offer."