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Clemente Park To Mark 30 Years…Has Grand Reopening

Clemente Park To Mark 30 Years

Housing Authority Paid For Renovation Of South Side Site

By Nicole Radzievich Of The Morning Call

October 6, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

THE REFURBISHED picnic pavilion is only part of the renovations the Bethlehem Housing Authority has planned for the Roberto Clemente Community Park. The authority also will improve the softball field.

The Roberto Clemente Community Park, once little more than a rutted patch of overgrown grass on Bethlehem's South Side, has gotten a face-lift in time for its 30th birthday.

The overhaul of the 3-acre park comes courtesy of the Bethlehem Housing Authority, which operates the neighboring Lynfield public housing development.

The authority replaced the barbecue pits on concrete slabs and rebuilt a picnic pavilion that had long since fallen victim to disrepair and demolition. And within the next year, the softball field will be leveled, completing improvements that will total more than $20,000.

Crowning the improvements will be a bronze and marble plaque, a tribute to the late Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Famer for whom the park was named.

The Housing Authority is scheduled to rededicate the park at the end of this month.

Jose Rosado, who had grown up playing in the park and attended the dedication ceremony in 1973, said the event will hold a special place in his heart.

"I learned to play baseball on that field, and I brought my son there, and he learned to play baseball on that field," said Rosado, now assistant principal of Broughal Middle School. "It's a shame that park had gotten to that point."

It was hardly a field befitting of its namesake, he said, who died in a plane crash in 1973 while on a humanitarian mission.

The Housing Authority agreed.

Over the past year, authority officials navigated through a complicated web of red tape that included having the authority buy land from the city's Water Authority, which owns the nearby water tanks. That allowed the Housing Authority to improve the park.

Mark Iampietro, co-deputy executive director of the Housing Authority, lamented that while certain details remain unfinished, the authority will rededicate the park anyway, and possibly in front of a very special guest: Clemente's widow.

Vera Clemente of Puerto Rico had attended the first ceremony in 1973, the year after her husband died in a plane crash while on a mission to aid earthquake victims of Nicaragua.

As a 9-year-old, Rosado remembers watching a limousine, escorted by police, pass his South Terrace neighborhood on the way to the ceremony. The next day, Rosado dashed to the store to read in the newspaper about the ceremony that featured Clemente's widow.

Roberto Clemente, a right-fielder, had obtained the benchmarks of 3,000 hits in a lifetime but was also noted for his humanitarian work. His widow still presents a ballplayer with the humanitarian award each year after the World Series.

Bethlehem officials are hoping that Vera Clemente will be able to stop in the Lehigh Valley on the trip home and attend the rededication ceremony. If not, she has suggested that one of her sons will attend in her place.

Rosado, who met Vera Clemente at the Baseball Hall of Fame, has since established a rapport with her, and she has visited classrooms at Broughal in years past.

Rosado said that Roberto Clemente is a hero to many in the heavily Puerto Rican South Side. Clemente's batting record earned him a place in sports history.

"Roberto Clemente was unique; he was a little guy who was a great player," Iampietro said. "He was a great inspiration."

Roberto Clemente Community Park Has Grand Reopening

Bethlehem Housing Authority Is Motivated To Upgrade The Site

By Chuck Ayers Of The Morning Call

October 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Allentown Morning Call. All rights reserved. 

TIM KOVACS and Gene Gonzalez of the Bethlehem Housing Authority unveil a new monument for the revived Roberto Clemente Community Park in Bethlehem in a rededication ceremony on Saturday.

Ron Davis was a youngster growing up on Fifth Street in south Bethlehem and looking for things to do when he and his friends walked to the park in the Lynfield Housing Development.

They played baseball and football on the steeply terraced field, but over the years the field, owned by the Bethlehem Housing Authority, was not maintained. Fences rusted and broke, and the old baseball backstop was indiscernable and overgrown with weeds.

The field was little more than a rutted acre of grass at the edge of the development. The picnic pavilion was demolished years ago, the barbecue pits were lost, and a pitted section of macadam is the last remnant of a basketball hoop that once stood there. The weed-infested backstop was the last to go when it was demolished by the Bethlehem Housing Authority last year. Not even a sign with the park's name remained.

On Saturday, a newly refurbished and neatly manicured park -- named the Roberto Clemente Community Park in honor of the Hall of Fame Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder -- got a new lease on life.

"It's great to see this back," said Davis, now president of Bethlehem Saints Youth Football.

Davis attended rededication ceremonies that unveiled a 115-pound bronze plaque embedded in a 3,000 pound stone at the park entrance with an image of Clemente on second base after picking up the 3,000th, and final, hit of his career. The park opened in 1973 after Clemente died in a plane crash in 1972 on a mission to aid earthquake victims in Nicaragua.

Not only was the Puerto Rico native a hero to many in Bethlehem's heavily Puerto Rican South Side, but he also made several visits to friends in the Lehigh Valley.

Jose Rosado, vice principal at Broughal Middle School, also saw time at the park. He was instrumental in restoring the park with the authority and was a keynote speaker at the ceremony.

"When my first son was born, this is where I brought him to learn to play baseball," he said.

But Rosado said the significance of the park goes beyond its recreational opportunities.

"The fact that this is named Roberto Clemente is just as important as having a place for our children to come and play," Rosado said. "It's important that they know who Roberto Clemente was."

Larry Kisslinger, a Housing Authority board member who was instrumental in motivating the authority to take care of its property, said that when the park is completed the authority will have spent $30,000 to regrade the baseball field, construct a pavilion and refurbish the community center.

Davis said 90 percent of the Saints football players come from the Lynfield development. The importance of having a place for them to hone their skills and unleash their energy can't be understated, he said.

"If you give them a place to keep them off the street, they will go," Davis said.

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