It takes a lot of people to build a city. Private business owners and elected officials come and go. Some become legends because of the buildings they build, the laws they pass and the events they create. Others work in the background doing the legwork for big projects, and where nothing would be completed without their dedication, they rarely end up seeing their name commemorated on a plaque or a building.
Such a man was former Spokane Parks and Recreation director William “Bill” Fearn, said Hal McGlathery who’s now leading an effort to name the 1-acre conservation site located where the Downtown YMCA used to be after Fearn.
McGlathery said Fearn’s work overseeing the funding of the Expo ’74 World’s Fair should be recognized publicly.
“The politicians were the key proponents of Expo ’74 and without them it couldn’t have happened, they greased the skids,” said McGlathery, “but Bill Fearn did the legwork and took care of all the details. That’s why he deserves the recognition.”
Fearn was the director of Spokane Parks and Recreation Department from 1965 to 1980 and in preparation for Expo ’74 he pulled together grant funding from many sources to acquire and develop the land that’s now Riverfront Park. He also hired a young Hal McGlathery in 1970.
“I worked with Fearn a lot, so I feel like I know him well,” said McGlathery, who retired in 2009 after 39 years with Spokane Parks and Recreation Department. “I don’t want to pit him against politicians like Tom Foley and Warren Magnuson, or King Cole who deserve all the credit they get. I just think he deserves some credit, too.”
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McGlathery got the idea and submitted the formal proposal to name the YMCA site meadow inside Riverfront Park after Fearn. He did most of the research into Fearn’s accomplishments last year and submitted the proposal in September.
William T. Youngs, a professor at Eastern Washington University who wrote “The Fair and the Falls” about Expo ’74 and the development of Riverfront Park, mentions many of Fearns accomplishments in his book. But McGlathery said he didn’t find as many mentions of Fearn in old minutes as he expected.
“That surprised me, but I knew he worked in the background more than anything else,” McGlathery said.
Fearn is also credited with saving Spokane’s Looff Carrousel when its original home, Natatorium Park, closed in 1968. Back then, many thought the carrousel was just an oddity with little value and jokingly referred to it as “Fearn’s Folly.” Today, it’s impossible to imagine Riverfront Park without the carrousel and the joy it brings to thousands of visitors every season. Fearn died from a heart attack at age 67 in 1995.
McGlathery said Fearn always felt a close connection to the Y, so naming the site in his honor is appropriate for reasons beyond his work with Riverfront Park.
“Fearn worked for the YMCA in Seattle while he was at the University of Washington,” said McGlathery. “His master’s degree in social work was from George Williams College in Chicago, a school that also had a close connection to the YMCA.”
McGlathery is not sure when the Parks Board will take action on the naming proposal and he encourages people to write letters in support to the Parks Department.
“I hope they do it,” McGlathery said.
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