Family, friends and colleagues of the late Spokane Parks Director Bill Fearn gathered in Riverfront Park Monday to remember his legacy by setting aside a portion of the park as a conservation area named in his honor.
Fearn’s former colleagues and current Spokane Parks Department staff shared their memories of his work to save the Looff Carrousel, which sits inside it’s own building on the south side of the park, and his work to create what is now known as Riverfront Park after the Expo ’74 World’s Fair. Fearn, who worked as the Spokane City Parks Director from 1965 to 1979, died in 1995 of a heart attack. His former employee, Hal McGlathery, has spent the last six years attempting to name a space in Riverfront Park after him.
McGlathery said politicians received much of the credit for the creation of Riverfront Park, but the day-to-day paperwork Fearn completed is one of the major reasons their work became reality. He said political figures do deserve much of the credit for the park, but Fearn should be recognized as well. He said the location of conservation area, near the suspension bridge at the northwest corner of the park, will be a permanent way to remember Fearn’s contributions to the community.
Fearn’s widow, Ruth Fearn, said her husband was a modest person and would have wanted the credit for the park’s success to go to the city.
“He would have been so proud,” she said, “but he probably would have hidden.”
She, and other members of the Fearn family, described him as humble and visionary, saying he was an understated person who preferred to stay out of the spotlight. Fearn’s granddaughter, Jessica True, said despite his modesty, he would have been happy to know the city was remembering him.
One memory that unites Fearn’s family and colleagues is his determination to save the Looff Carrousel. Fearn’s family and his best friend, Royce Gorseth, recall him generating thousands from fund raising, despite public criticism. Gorseth, a former Spokesman-Review travel columnist, said he remembers walking through the park in its earliest stages and hearing Fearn’s ideas about where the Riverfront would go.
“It was really great walking around with him because he had such a passion for this park and creating something beautiful,” Gorseth said.
Fianna Dickson, spokeswoman for the Parks Department, said the Bill Fearn Conservation area would be open to the public in Fall 2019, around the same time the pavilion construction is complete. In the meantime, temporary signage has been hung on the fence near the conservation area so those passing by can learn more about Fearn’s legacy.