Saturday, May 17, 2003

Ted Berry's message lives in new city park

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Touring the Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park on Friday are (from left) Gail Berry-West, daughter of Theodore M. Berry; Cincinnati Parks director Willie F. Carden Jr.; Steve Schuckman, superintendent of planning and design for the Cincinnati Park Board; Theodore Berry Jr.; and his son, Joshua.
(Brandi Stafford photos)
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As a civic leader, Theodore M. Berry helped shape the landscape of Cincinnati. Now the landscape has been shaped for him.

The Theodore M. Berry International Friendship Park, named in honor of the city's first African-American mayor, is designed to be a celebration of cultural understanding.

The East End riverfront park, 1001 Eastern Ave., will be unveiled to the public today, with a grand opening at 11 a.m.

This 22-acre recreational area is the Cincinnati Park Board's first new park to open in 40 years. It was built with a $4 million state grant and a matching $4 million Cincinnati City Council allocation.

"This is another jewel in the crown of Cincinnati," said parks director Willie F. Carden Jr. "A park atmosphere forces people to come out and spend time together. It fosters a greater understanding of each other."

The intertwining walkways that run the length of the park were designed to mimic the links of a friendship bracelet.

[IMAGE] A park sign in eight languages will greet visitors to today's opening of the East End park. It's Cincinnati's first new park in 40 years.
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The handicapped-accessible paths have various symbols imbedded into the design. The "Path of Man" walkway, for example, contains icons of world cultures, while the "Path of Nature" contains animal tracks and plant imprints.

The Gardens of the Continents shape the park's interior using garden styles and plants found in other countries. Antarctica is the only continent not represented.

On the north side, a bike trail runs the length of the park and will eventually link with the Ohio River Bike Trail. The river snakes past the southern edge, replicated in the serpentine shapes of the park's walls and benches.

What: International Friendship Park grand opening
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.
Where: 1001 Eastern Ave., east of downtown, on the Ohio River.
Activities: Procession of a giant friendship bracelet and music. Activities in the afternoon include balloon artists, face painters, storytellers and games, and food concessions.
Parking: Free parking and shuttle service to the park will be available at the Montgomery Inn Banquet Center parking lot, 601 E. Pete Rose Way.
Nov. 8, 1905: Born in Maysville, Ky.
June 1924: Commencement orator and senior class valedictorian at Woodward High School, the first African-American valedictorian in school history.
1931: Graduates from University of Cincinnati Law School; opens law office in the West End.
Feb. 14, 1939: Appointed first African-American assistant prosecutor in Hamilton County.
1949: Elected to Cincinnati City Council as a Charter candidate.
1955: Appointed vice mayor.
1957: Loses council re-election bid.
1963: Re-elected to City Council.
1965: Appointed by President Johnson as head of the Office of Economic Opportunity's Community Action Programs, which include Head Start, Jobs Corps and Legal Services; resigns from City Council.
Dec. 1, 1972: Begins term as Cincinnati's first African-American mayor.
1975: Ends mayoral job by declining to seek re-election.
June 1997: Cincinnati Park Board votes to name International Friendship Park after Berry.
May 1998: National Underground Railroad Freedom Center honors Berry by creating a national distinguished lecture series named for him.
January 1999: Council approves $4 million to develop the riverfront park. (A $4 million state-funded grant was approved for the park in 1997.)
Oct. 15, 2000: Berry dies, three weeks shy of his 95th birthday.
Other features:

• Flags from around the world line a walkway that links the park with Bicentennial Commons.

• An earth sculpture in the form of two open hands - the so-called largest hands in North America - forms a tribute to the Native American mound builders. Each finger is about 20 feet long.

• Tiles point to four cities around the globe - due north, south, east and west.

• The Garden of Europe, where a pavilion donated by Munich, Germany, will be erected in spring 2004.

Cincinnati's seven sister cities (Munich; Harare, Zimbabwe; Gifu, Japan; Nancy, France; Liuzhou, China; Kharkiv, Ukraine; and Taipei Hsien, Taiwan) play a significant role in the park. Artists from those cities will contribute to the park.

"This park is representative of forging relationships," said Steve Schuckman, superintendent of park planning. "It's about people, not countries."

It's also a fitting tribute for its namesake.

For more than a half-century, Berry won many victories against segregation and racism and was an advocate of global understanding.

The son of a white farmer he only met once and a deaf-mute mother, Berry was raised in foster homes. He served as orator and class valedictorian at Woodward High School, the first African-American to do so in school history.

His original essay for the contest was rejected when the panel of white judges realized he was a minority. He re-entered the contest under the pseudonym Thomas Playfair.

That essay won.

"What got him through life is that he never thought anyone was better than him, and he never thought he was better than anyone else," said his son, Ted Berry Jr. of Milford.

"His motivation was always fairness."

Though Berry was aware of the many things to be named for him - a Head Start facility in the West End, the friendship park and a downtown street - he did not live to see them executed.

He died Oct. 15, 2000, at age 94, three weeks shy of his birthday.

"He was humble about it, but honored," his son said. "It made him feel good to have someone recognize all his struggles and the sacrifices he made."


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