Over 100 years ago, the 27 acre Tract of land where Hoyt Park sits on Saginaw’s east side was heavily wooded at the top of the hill. At the bottom of the Hill, it was basically a “Bayou.” The lower bowl was nothing but a marshy area full of Bullfrogs, Muskrat, and Water snakes. In the late 1800’s, City workers kicked all of the critters out and the Marsh was drained. The City brought in a landscaping expert to plant sod in the lower bowl. A few years later, they created a Road along the east side that connected at either end.
During the 1920’s it was not uncommon for the park to have more than 190 baseball and softball teams competing in various leagues over the course of one summer. In those years, when Hoyt Park was at its peak during the winter months, they would often times have record days where over 7,000 patrons enjoyed ice skating, sledding, and tobogganing in ONE DAY! While researching this story at the Hoyt Public Library in Downtown Saginaw, I found an article from the 1930’s. In that article, parks and recreation officials stated that they were averaging 100,000 skaters every winter. Since that time, Hoyt Park has remained the Crown Jewel of Saginaw’s parks and recreational programs. Although, with large numbers of citizens leaving the city for the Township and other outlying Suburbs over the past 20 years, coupled with budget cuts by the city, in 2003 the City could no longer afford to maintain Saginaw’s Parks and Recreation programs. City baseball, softball, flag football and other recreational leagues, which had provided an outlet for the City’s residents throughout many generations, were suddenly no longer available.
For five long years our city went without the use of Hoyt Park.
It wasn’t until 2008 when concerned Saginaw citizens came up with the idea to create a group that would help resurrect and maintain the historic park. It started when Chris Packard would often bring Christian Youth Groups to the park to play Baseball games. Chris wanted to start a “grassroots” effort to make Hoyt Park available to all Saginaw children.
Two Saginaw City Councilmen, Dan Fitzpatrick and Paul Virciglio contacted Chris, with the idea of creating a group to preserve and maintain the park. Around that time Larry Brethauer had also contacted Chris offering his support to help get his Christian Youth Group started. Eventually, the four agreed to a meeting. Jonathan Pope and Eric Rutherford (who worked for the Saginaw YMCA at that time) also came to the meeting. Dick Garber, Tom Webb, Tom Mudd and Dan Kenel joined the others at that first meeting. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, the group Friends of Hoyt Park was created and signed a 99-year lease with the city to operate and maintain the beautiful old park.
Larry Brethauer is the President of Friends of Hoyt Park. Larry is an instrumental “spoke” in the constantly “spinning wheel” known as The Friends of Hoyt Park. The obvious goal for the group was to bring back the summer recreation leagues, but Larry has informed me that the group is now in the midst of a major fundraising campaign to bring the Ice Skating Rink back to Hoyt Park.
“We had Ice Skating in mind from the very beginning, but the initial goal of the (F.O.H.P.) board was to bring youth baseball and adult softball solidly back to Hoyt Park. We have more than 400 youth who are now playing in leagues at Hoyt Park. We have Christian Youth Baseball, YMCA Tee Ball, and several adult leagues. We have also hosted five State Tournaments.” Saginaw residents started Ice Skating at Hoyt Park as early as 1905. In 1907, a shelter house was built on the north hill where skaters could come in from the cold and huddle around a “pot bellied heater” for warmth. The Shelter was replaced by a state of the art (for its time) Warming House that was built in 1937. The Warming House has had its share of interior decay over the past 72 years.
Larry and his merry band of fund raising soldiers have laid out a plan for an $800,000 upgrade to the 1937 Landmark. “We want to totally redo the lower area of the warming house, including the concession area,” Larry continues, “We have somewhere between $350,000 to $400,000 towards our total goal of $800,000 for renovations to the warming house and surrounding areas.”
Larry also explains how they plan to tackle (night time) skating at the park, while addressing the issue of rising energy costs. “The lighting has already been updated with improvements to the Stadium lights. Initially, we might just do weekend daytime events to keep the costs to a minimum.”
One of Larry’s newest fundraising “super soldiers” has quite a familiar name to both Saginaw’s Hockey and Automotive communities. Local Automotive Giant, Richard Garber (who also owns The Saginaw Spirit Hockey Team) has jumped on board and he is offering his expertise to help see this effort through to the end. Larry explains Mr. Garber’s special involvement in their fundraising efforts. “Any donations received or previously pledged before 3/19/2011 will be matched DOLLAR for DOLLAR by Richard Garber through his Saginaw Spirit foundation & Garber Automotive Dealerships.”
It should also be noted that all donations would be fully tax deductible as F.O.H.P. is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. The group seems to be moving in the right direction and I have to admit, upon hearing that F.O.H.P. was entertaining the thought of bringing back the Ice to the place where I learned how to skate so many years ago, I felt positive about the whole idea and I instantly wanted to get involved. Hoyt Park has held a special place in this writer’s heart for many years.
As a child growing up in the City of Saginaw throughout the 1970’s and 80’s the one constant in my life was always Hoyt Park. There aren’t too many memories from my childhood that didn’t include the Grand Old Park, or as many of us used to refer to it, “The Brick” (a testament to the beautiful “Brick Facade” of the 1930’s structure that housed the city’s recreation offices).
If it was warm outside in early June, that could mean only one thing to a “City Kid” like myself. It was Baseball season! I can vividly remember waking up many summer mornings (usually after a very “limited” night of sleep) with the hint fluttering of butterflies deep in the pit of my stomach. For me, Butterflies in my stomach on warm June mornings in 1980’s Saginaw meant that it was “Game Day!”
We would hook our leather baseball gloves over the Handlebars of our BMX bikes and head for “The Brick.” We would start out pedaling through the West side of the City, finding our way to Court St. heading east down into Old City Saginaw across Hamilton St. and up the steep incline of the Court St. Bridge. After walking our bikes to the top of the Court St. Bridge, we would then hop up on the seat and coast down onto Ezra Rust Drive. As we made our way east on Ezra Rust Dr. (past the Saginaw Water Works & Japanese Gardens) we could hear that familiar crowing of the famous Peacock, mixed intermittently by the sound of the iconic Steam Whistle of the Train at The Saginaw Children’s Zoo. Crossing Washington, we knew it was time to get serious, so we put on our “Game Faces” as we entered the oval drive of Historic Hoyt Park.
My first year playing tee ball at Hoyt Park was one I would remember for a lifetime as our team, sponsored by Ed Lynes Carpet, won the first of many City Championships. We had a great group of guys down at “The Brick” that 1st year. There were four of us that lived close to each other and we were a tight knit bunch.
I lived on the corner of Bay St. and Genesee Ave. Mitch Steele lived a little further down on Genesee Ave. just west of Brenner St., while Todd Schulz and David McKinney lived next door to each other at the end of Wynes St. David’s father, (David Sr.) was our coach. Wynes St. was a dead end Street that was separated from my backyard, by another iconic Saginaw playground at St. Paul’s Elementary School. Coach McKinney would go on to coach many championship Baseball teams down at Hoyt Park.
My childhood friend, Todd Schulz, now lives in the Lansing area. Todd was kind enough to share some memories about growing up at Hoyt Park as he explains, “What makes Hoyt Park so special, is simply that it’s been there for generations. Playing ball, skating or sledding down there was almost a rite of passage for Saginaw kids. From the time I was little, I always felt a real sense of history about the park, knowing my parents and grandparents had all spent time there.”
“Like countless kids, I recall my parents dropping me off during the winter to sled (especially trying to shoot ALL the way across the ice) and also, playing hockey down at the other end. We’d play for hours.”
As Todd continues, he reveals some of his very special (warm weather) memories. “For me, my fondest memories were made playing baseball during those hot summer mornings. Our team, sponsored by Conroy Company, won several city championships and to us, it was like winning the World Series. Every time I visit Saginaw I drive through Hoyt Park and tell the same stories to my wife and kids (who usually roll their eyes). In past years, it was sad to see how the park had deteriorated. I’m thankful to the group, Friends of Hoyt Park for starting a well deserved restoration effort so the park will continue to serve as a special place to Saginaw kids for generations to come.”
For Dave Keaner, his fondest memories of Hoyt Park come from the many cold winter days and nights that he and his family would spend down at Hoyt Park. The Keaner Family grew up on Storch St. (just off of Adams Blvd.) on the City’s West side. Dave recalls what Hoyt Park meant to his brothers, sisters, and himself as they spent fun filled winters throughout the late 1940’s and early 1960’s down on the ice at Hoyt Park.
In Dave’s own words, he exclaims, “All of us Keaner kids had racing skates. Even some of my sisters had white racing skates, the kind (with the long blades) you know? Most of us were just average skaters and we all enjoyed going to Hoyt Park at night to skate under the lights and listen to the music! However, our brother Don was a BLITZ on speed skates! He was the one who pushed the rest of us to come down to the park with him and skate. He could skate gracefully backward faster than the rest of us could skate forward! We used to watch speed skaters from Bay City come to the rink and – if my memory is correct - there was one Saginaw family that had some very fast kids on speed skates.”
“We always tried to talk our brother Don into entering the speed skating races, but he would just never try it. I never understood why, because he would follow the group of racers way on the outside of the loop around the rink and actually keep up with them as they circled around the much shorter inside of the oval track!”
I’m sure there are countless stories which are similar to the stories told by Dave Keaner, Todd Schulz, and I. Memories of the great times down at Hoyt Park are what make this restoration project so imperative. Imagine all of the kids that have lost the opportunity to create some of their own experiences over the years that Hoyt Park was closed. Larry Brethauer and his group from Friends of Hoyt Park are just the type of people who give Hope to the future of our City.
This is no small effort either. Larry tells me that the group has many corporate sponsors on board as well, and that the fundraising for Friends of Hoyt Park is an on-going quest. “We have corporate sponsors added for the ice, just as we had for the ball diamonds. We will continue to sell sponsorships and annual memberships like we have over the past two years with the ball diamonds. We had 15 companies buy signage last year, and we sold over 50 F.O.H.P. memberships. This does not include the outright donations and the $70,000 of (in-kind work) that was already donated to help redo the ball diamonds.”
If anyone is interested in helping, there are many ways you can get involved with the Friends of Hoyt Park. At the remaining Saginaw Spirit home hockey games, there will be a F.O.H.P. table set up in the northeast corner of The Dow Event Center. They will accept any donations, even if you can only afford five bucks, every little bit helps. They will give you one of their brochures, which will help explain the many different memberships.
For a $25.00 “Friend” membership, you will receive a F.O.H.P. Car Window Sticker. If you donate to the $50.00 “Supporter” membership, you will receive a Car Window Sticker along with a Tee Shirt. Higher level contributors will receive 2 Tee Shirts, 2 Car Window Stickers.
Those Higher-level contributors are as follows. $100-$249-“Booster” $250-$499-“Home Run Hitter” $500-$999-“Grand Slam Hitter” $1,000-$2,499-“Major Contributor” $2,500-$4,999-“Major Sponsor” $5,000-“Hall of Famer” $10,000-“Park Endower” As mentioned earlier, Friends of Hoyt Park is a 501 (c) (3) organization and your donations ARE tax deductible.
It is important to note that Larry would like me to mention some people who have been instrumental in making all of this happen. A mentor, without her help, the group could not have survived is Renee Johnston and her staff at the Saginaw Community Foundation. Alex Kryska is the Head of Grounds Maintenance. Jason Kutchinski, owner of Great Lakes Bay Insurance agency, has been a fundraising Spark Plug donating his time, and with the help of The Fordney Club.
Finally, The Friends of Hoyt Park Board of Directors: Larry Brethauer (President), Eric Rutherford (Vice President), Brigette Uhrich (Secretary), Dan Kenel (Treasurer), Rounding out the board are members: Richard Garber, Paul Virciglio, Dan Fitzpatrick, Jack Tany, Thomas Mudd, Chris Packard, Jeanne Conger, and Kris Seals.
You can mail your donations to: F.O.H.P. P.O. box 1562 Saginaw, Mi 48605
Make all checks payable to: Friends of Hoyt Park
Please feel free to become “friends” with The Friends of Hoyt Park on Facebook.