Ford Park-My Summer Hangout

From my elementary school years through high school, there was one constant in my life. I spent a big part of my summer at Ford Park. This park provided hours of fun, as well as the opportunity to learn how to play tennis, and shuffleboard. Ford Park was also a great place to meet people and develop friendships.

Ford Park had a lot of amenities that larger parks didn’t have. Coming from the Woodward Avenue entrance to the park, large trees greeted each visitor. There were picnic tables and grills placed in strategic locations. On the south side was the maintenance building which was the central location for the maintenance equipment for all the parks in Highland Park.

After the picnic tables and grills, came the playground area of the park. There was the typical playground equipment. I always enjoyed playing on the rocket. Within the playground section, there was also a cement area where there were sprinklers which were turned on during the summer for the children to play and to cool off. I was never much for water, so I never spent any time there.

To south of the playground was an open field of grass which was used to play field hockey each evening.  We used plastic sticks and a plastic ball. Every night, this would be a big treat to play. Beyond the open field were five shuffleboard courts. As I became older, I enjoyed playing with the “old men” who came each day to compete.

Going further east in the park, there was the pavilion, which was a shelter for ice skaters in the winter. In the summer it became a refreshment stand that sold pop, candy and popsicles. Within this building, there were table games that would be given out, as well as the shuffleboard equipment.

To the north of the playground were ten tennis courts. These courts had lights and were well maintained. When I turned thirteen, I started to have a keen interest in tennis. These tennis courts would be my home away from home for several summers. I met some great people on the tennis courts. To this day, I still enjoy playing tennis.

Ford Park was more than the equipment, the tennis courts, and the large trees in the front of the park. It was a place where dedicated adults brought fun, happiness, and skills into the lives of the children who came each day. The Highland Park Recreation Department hired these adults to work throughout the summer at Ford Park.

The first recreation director I remember at Ford Park was Stanley Zubel. Mr. Zubel worked in the Highland Park school system during the school year and then at Ford Park in the summer. He kept the park moving with activities. I still remember painting the molds of various things such as an Indian chief and a dog. I also made some pot holders using a loom. Table games were great fun as well.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

A potholder loom like we used at Ford Park.

In the evening, Mr. Zubel had two very special activities. The first was Tiny Tot softball.  This was for children ten years old and under. If you were older, Mr. Zubel would let you play, but you had to bat with the opposite hand. After Tiny Tot softball, we played field hockey. This was always competitive. Sometimes, Mr. Zubel would penalize us for various infractions of the rules. This meant that we couldn’t play for a certain amount of time. Even as a ten-year old, I could tell that Mr. Zubel had his heart in what he was doing. Two years ago, Mr. Zubel died. I wished I could have thanked him for all of his good work. Here is a link to Mr. Zubel’s obituary:

Mr. Zubel would leave when I was about eleven years old, but there were other directors who did a great job. There was Mrs. Lang, and Katie Street, who taught art at Ford Middle School. Another director whose name escapes me would come to work in a Plymouth Road Runner with a spoiler bar. I was quite impressed with his car.

The director that I had as a great friend during my teenage years was Mike Bartnikowski. Mike taught at Ford Middle School, but spent his summers as the director at Ford Park.  Mike was great fun because he had a great sense of humor and was addicted to war games. Every afternoon, some of us would gather together at the park with Mike and fight famous battles such as Waterloo, D-Day, and Midway. Another favorite was a game called Diplomacy.

One evening, Mike played a prank on me that I have never forgotten. While I was playing tennis (I was probably sixteen.), Mike got on the PA system and announced that there was an important message for Mark Booth. Then he announced your mother is calling you. The people on the tennis courts had a great laugh as I ran off the courts, only to find a laughing Mike Bartnikowski at the pavilion. There was no call from my Mom.

As a teen, I always found that Mike would listen to me and some of my concerns. He was more than a director, but a dear friend.

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year.  Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski.

Photo taken in 2011. Mike passed away last year. Here is a link to my article on Mike Bartnikowski.

Another embarrassing memory at the park involved my bicycle. I had inherited my brother’s two-speed Schwinn bike. I rode this bike all over the Detroit area. I would always ride my bike to Ford Park. There was a boy who came to the park who asked to ride my bike. I consented and he would always return it. One day, he took off on my bike. As time went by, I sat on a picnic table waiting and waiting for my bike to return. It never did.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

My stolen bike looked a lot like this.

Those years at Ford Park were wonderful. Today, children in my community don’t have a place like Ford Park with activities and great adult supervision. I was very privileged to live in Highland Park during the years when there were funds to offer so many opportunities to have fun and a safe place to play.

P.S. Please visit my other blog:  I write about spiritual subjects such as: “Do I Have Spiritual Amnesia” and “God’s Waiting Room”.

24 thoughts on “Ford Park-My Summer Hangout

  1. Hi Mark. My dad would take me and my sisters to Ford Park quite often. As you enter the park from Woodward we went up to the park by climbing the rock lined stairs. Those stairs and the time capsule are still there in front of Highland Park Renaissance Academy(formaly HP high school) I also found that if you do an areial search of Highland Park High School there is a small section outback that ia still listed as Ford Park.

    • Kimberly, once again thank you for reading and commenting on my post. I had completely forgotten the stairs by Woodward. I very rarely entered the park from that direction. I wish that they had built the new high school in another area instead of taking up the space in the largest park in HP.

  2. Thank you Mark. My Dad, Mike Bartnikowski was a great prankster. The house he raised my brother and I in, had 5 steps into the kitchen around a corner to the nearest light switch. He would often bolt through the door, up the steps and not turn on the light, leaving my brother and I out in the cold or rain yelling “Daddy, turn on the lights!”, while he’d reply in a deeper than normal voice, “there’s no Daddy up here, only us monsters waiting to eat little boys and girls”. On July 27, Saturday, we will be having a one day gamer garage sale at his house in Wyandotte. Like his new event Facebook page Bartnikowskis Hoard

    • As I wrote in my post about your Dad, he did have a great influence in my life beyond the wargaming. Thanks for sharing an instance of his humor with you. I would love to check out the garage sale, but I haven’t played a war game in years. I tried to get my sons interested in wargaming when they were growing up, but it didn’t take.

  3. All great memories, especially Mr. Zubel, a truly wonderful person. I did not know Mike but he sounds like a great guy and a lot of fun. That was a nice bike; I had forgotten about the theft.

    • Yes, I don’t how I remember Mr. Zubel so well, but I really enjoyed the activities he had at the park. Mike was a great guy who loved the Avalon Hill War Games. The family is selling his stash of war games. He was quite well-known throughout Michigan as a war gamer.

  4. Mike, great memory of Ford Park. I remember being very young and having to go with my grandmother who would walk my sister and me to the Woodward entrance where we would walk from her house on Gerald. It was always a treat to go there.

    • I am glad to see that you have improved. I have prayed for you concerning your recovery. Yes, Ford Park was a great place to go for kids! I spent so much time there, If I were an artist, I could draw the Ford Park as it looked in the sixties. Thanks for reading my post and commenting. -Mark Booth-

  5. I enjoyed the article and remember the days at Ford Park. At the time my mother would drop me and my brothers and sister off and spent most of the day there. I remember that thursday were hot dog night when the families brought the dogs and what ever else you were going to have. for dinner.
    Yes those were the days all good.

  6. I just stumbled upon this blog post while searching for my grandfather’s obituary. Stanley Zubel was my grandfather. I grew up in San Diego and mostly when I saw him, he came to visit us. I knew very little of his life in Michigan. It’s really nice to read that he had such a positive impact on you and other people. He was always so good with us kids. Anyway, thanks for sharing your memories here for me to find. 🙂

    • Yes, Mr. Zubel had a great influence on many students in the Highland Park school system, as well as those of us who are children who attended the summer program at Ford Park. He definitely made my summers much more enjoyable and helped give me good memories of my childhood. Thanks for reading my post.

  7. The post is great! Ford park was the best! I was fortunate enough to experience the park a few of my years before it was replaced with the high school( first of many dumb decions by the city). My mom worked for Robert Hall clothing store and most evenings my dad would leave early enough, picking her up to allow me time to play in Ford park which was just south maybe a block. Running down that hill to my PLAYGROUND OASIS was the best! The concession stand was Awesome as well as the MicIhigan week parades ending at the park. Ford park was a True GEM of HP.

  8. Great story. Thanks for sharing. I’m so thankful I got the chance to experience Ford park for a few years. My mom worked a block north at a clothing store. My dad would leave early to pick her up, giving us an opportunity to play in Ford park a time before picking up my mom. Running down the shallow hill on the Woodward entrance, then coming up , entering the park was just magical! I was very sad when they gave up the park for that CATASTROPHE, they called a high school! What a MESS! I actually attended the school and hated it every day!

    • Hello Keith,
      Thanks for reading my blog. Yes, there are great memories growing in Highland Park. As I wrote, I spent many hours at Ford Park. It was a great place to play, hang out and then when I was a teen to play tennis. Yes, there was a lot of debate about the location of the new high school. BTW, I had forgotten about the shallow hill at Woodward.

      • My pleasure. Yes. That Highschool was the final, financial, blow to Highland Park. My brother was actually in the first class, 78, to graduate from that catastrophe! A school with NO Windows!
        Yes! That little hill was Awesome! I’m sure it was not as large as I imagined, being I was a time, but coming out of that hill was like running into paradise! The concession stand had really good soft served ice cream too!
        I grew up on Richton between second and Third. Although The adjacent blocks look like residual of war in a third world country, my block is still in tact. My closest friends still live there. 48 years and up.
        Yes. I was very, fortunate to have caught the tail end of the Highland Park experience before it fail. McGregor library was a Gem as well. Lots to do there. Live shows in the auditorium, and the front lawn served as our neighborhood vs. neighborhood rivalry football games!
        What’s amazing the Highschool is gone, but the Rock stairwell is still there as well as the memorial flag post. It has like a Marble like base, and it’s deteriorating.

      • Candler Ave also looks like a war zone. There is nothing left of my house or the neighborhood. It was a great neighborhood in which to grow up. I have enjoyed hearing about other peoples’ memories about HP. I have been thinking of opening my blog to guest bloggers.

      • Please)))) create the blog! I believe it can turn into something big.
        Candler was a very quiet street. I remember it well from my Saturdays at the boys club, and going to St. Benedicts to watch the Highland Park basketball games. St. Benedict was their home gym after the fire at the Original HP Highschool.
        My mom worked at a store called Robert Hall I believe between candler and Ferris? The building is still there. For a long time it was A dirty book store. I believe it’s a church now.
        Yes. H.p. was a special place!
        Did you know that Highland Park is the only completely finished city in America??

      • I have already created the blog! I have forty posts in my blog. Of course, I haven’t written in about four years. I know that I need to get back to writing it. I mention Robert Hall in my post about Easter. Every year Dad would take me to Robert Hall to get an Easter suit. It was quite the place. Yes, I lived a block from St. Benedict. I also remember the Boys Club as well. There was a lot of things to do in HP. I don’t know what you meant by “the only completely finished city in America.”

      • My apologies. I misread about the blog. Thanks for continuing to write.
        Yes! Robert Hall was quite a place. Getting fitted for your Easter suit was quite an experience. Standing on the platform being pinned and chalked for the Tailors alterations. Lol. I attended the Grace Lutheran Church at Woodward and Highland (S.W. corner) for most of my childhood. That was a special place as well.
        As for a ” Finished city”. Each street has a Finished sidewalk, finished alleys, lighting, plumbing and sewage. In addition to there are the underground crossing tunnels near each school. Each school was accessible by relatively short walks. Detroit has incomplete streets as well.
        If you notice in Detroit. Some streets don’t have alleys, and most are not finished. They have rocks. Houston Texas, as well as a lot of southern states have ditched instead of Seweres. Never saw an alley in any suburbs I’ve been. One would argue suburbs are Rural. Contrary to popular belief Highland park is a Suburb! If anyone played sports in HP schools this is the reason HP is in Suburban athletic conference. Reason HP didn’t contest against Detroit public schools (regular schedule) .
        There is even access to all the major Highways and expressways.
        Detroit has incomplete streets as well. Highland park lacked for Nothing.

      • I now get what you mean about “Finished City” I do remember the pedestrian tunnel on Second by Ford School. I use to dread going through it because of the smell. The one on John R was closed by the time I was around. As for the alleys, they were great! I wrote on of my posts about the alley behind our house. Here is the link: Yes, you were right that Highland Park lacked for nothing. I trust that you and your family had a great Thanksgiving.

      • I apologise for the late reply. My neighborhood had a cable outage for two days!
        Yes. Thanksgiving was good. Just my girlfriend and I. Unfortunately my family has dwindled by death. I do have my two siblings. Brother in Texas, sister in Minneapolis.
        I trust your Thanksgiving was great!
        I did check the blog about the alley. Awesome!
        I really feel bad for kids today. We would play four different sports in one day as well as other games such as tag, cops & robbers, etc.
        On my neighbors porch where everyone congregated there would be several board games going on at once. From Operation to chess.
        I’m sure you’re familiar with the actress/ singer telma Hopkins formerly of Tony Orlando and Dawn, and star of family matters with “Steve Urkel”? Well her mom was a security guard at HP high. Boy was she a ” pistol”! Mean as a rattle snake! LOL!

      • Thanks for the comments about the alley. I always felt sorry for our parts of our family who lived in Ferndale and Madison Heights because they didn’t have alleys. I wondered: “Where did they play?” As for table games, you so very right. I remember playing Strato-matic baseball and football for hours. As for the Richton area, I didn’t really know that part of the city. I had no reason to be there. There was enough going on in my neighborhood as well as having Ford Park so near to the house.

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