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Davenport shows its devotion to kids

Sun., June 20, 2010

Town offers lessons on how government can do good things, too

Davenport, Wash., is home to 1,750 men, women and children.

A short drive west of Fairchild Air Force Base, Davenport doesn’t feel isolated – if you’re an adult. But put yourself in the summer flip-flops of a child living there. No car. The bicycle takes you only so far. Palouse winds blow hot and lonely.

Davenport’s adults understand this summer dynamic for their children. So last year, they built them a skate park. This summer, they officially opened a new, $1 million pool. Next summer, they’ll finish a huge ballpark, with multiple-use playing fields.

“It is a huge expense, but we’re the adults,” said Davenport Mayor Karen Carruth. “We need to provide entities for kids to just have fun.”

In the summer, children can learn this important civics lesson: Government, despite its bad rap, sometimes does great things. Yet most kids don’t even know government entities are behind their summer recreation.

That’s OK, the civics experts say, because a lot of them figure it out by adulthood. And then, it’s payback time.

Connecting the dots

Bette Ammon, director of the Coeur d’Alene Public Library, grew up in a small town in Colorado.

“I remember going to the library every week and the most books you could check out at a time was five. I always got my limit and finished them in two days. I read like crazy. My biggest memories are wall-to-wall Nancy Drew reading.”

Ammon often speaks to children’s groups. She tries to connect the dots for children about libraries as government entities, owned by the people, paid for with tax money.

She asks children: “Who do you think owns the library?”

They tell her: “You do.”

Or they guess: “The mayor?”

One child once told her: “Jesus.”

Ammon then tells them: “You own it. All these books, you own them.”

“Their eyes get round,” she said. “They seem surprised and really proud. They feel important, especially the little kids.”

Patrick Jones is the director of Eastern Washington University’s Institute for Public Policy and Economic Analysis. The institute oversees the Community Indicators Initiative, which measures the vitality of communities through indicators such as education, housing, public safety and transportation.

The initiative also tracks spending on culture and recreation, including parks.

Children often identify where they live by the parks in their neighborhoods, Jones said. He was a Shadle Park kid, for instance.

“We would go down to Shadle Park pool, not once, not twice, but three times a day,” Jones, 61, recalled.

Jones also fondly remembers his grandmother’s house on Corbin Park where the elm trees formed “a magical forest for us children.”

As a child, Jones didn’t know that Corbin Park, or Shadle pool, were operated by the city, paid for with tax money. He doesn’t think most kids can connect the dots between their parks, pools and playgrounds and the government entities behind them.

“It’s so amorphous,” he said.

But Jones doesn’t worry that a key civics lesson is lost on summer’s children.

“My mother, who passed away a couple of years ago, (hosted) 30 exchange students over the years,” he said.

“These young people would ask her, ‘What can we do for you, Mrs. Jones?’ She had a quick reply: ‘Pass it on.’ Her expectation was don’t do anything for me, but when you get in my shoes, do it for someone else.”

In Davenport, they did just that.

Kids just want to have fun

Davenport’s pool was shuttered in 2002, due to lack of money.

Voters turned down a couple of citywide bond issues for a new pool. Then the city partnered with Lincoln County Park and Recreation District No. 3. This broadened the voting pool.

In 2005 and 2006, many town residents worked to pass the parks and rec bond, remembering the value of pools in their childhoods.

“Growing up in Wilbur, the pool was second only to school in importance in shaping my life,” Kyp Shillam wrote in a letter to the editor in the Davenport Times.

“Since my kids were born, I have driven them to Harrington, Odessa, Ritzville and Wilbur at least twice a week to swim in their community pools. They are good swimmers, but not as strong as I was at their age because I swam every day.”

While in the final stages of the cancer that would claim her life, Claire Van Buren, a lifelong Davenport resident, wrote to the newspaper: “My final wish (is) to see a new swimming pool in Davenport. We cannot give up on this need just because it’s a costly one. You can’t run a city on dollars and cents alone. You have to run it with a heart. What’s a park without a pool? It’s a dead spot in the heart of town.”

Then-Davenport council members, Donna Batch and Eleanor MacDonald, made sure every year that money was set aside for rebuilding a pool for the children. When Batch died, she left $100,000 in her will toward that goal.

The $870,000 parks and rec bond finally passed, by a 63 percent margin, in November 2006. While the pool was being designed and built, city leaders eyed other kid-friendly projects.

“The council felt there was nothing here for kids, so they did the skate park first while the pool was being built. And now the pool’s done and they said, ‘Let’s build some fields for the kids, too,’” explained Steve Goemmel, city administrator.

City leaders point out that Davenport is a conservative town, especially when it comes to spending taxpayer money, but the city is willingly paying for some things not covered by the bond, such as extra water features in the new pool.

And the city will cover pool maintenance – estimated cost, $75,000 – until a maintenance levy can be placed on a future ballot.

One recent overcast day, Mayor Carruth happily walked a visitor the few blocks from City Hall to the new pool. She grew up on a wheat farm in Harrington and swam once a week in the town’s pool located in the school.

“That was our fun – go to the pool,” said Carruth, 62. “There was nothing else to do in Harrington. I did not make the connection that it was a government program, and I don’t think kids do today, either.

“That’s just too serious a conversation for kids,” she added. “And it’s not important. They just need to have fun.”

At the pool, Carruth asked swimmers if they’d answer some questions.

Three young people emerged, covered in pool drops and shivering under cloudy skies.

They were asked: Who owns the pool?

Chris Faulkner, 13, guessed: “The courthouse?”

Who paid for the pool?

Faulkner and Alissa Taillefer, 13, both guessed: “Dean Anderson?”

(Anderson was a parks and recreation board member, and pool advocate, who recently died.)

How much did the pool cost?

Jason Wandling, 11, who plans to swim five times a week, guessed: “$20,000?”

When the young people learned that their parents, the taxpayers, are paying for the $1 million pool, Alissa summarized their unanimous reaction. “That’s cool,” she said.

Then the three Davenport kids jumped back into “their” new pool, back into their cool, childhood summers.

Tags: Davenport

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