NEWTON, NJ – She had only been on the job for three months so Newton’s recreation director Debbie Danielson skepticism was understandable when someone called offering $20,000 last fall.
In October of 2015 Danielson received a call from a McKee Foods representative offering to fund a project at Newton’s Memory Park. New to the job and not quite believing someone would offer so much money without strings attached, she put the caller off until the spring.
Then a funny thing happened. They called back. The McKee Foods representative Sam explained Newton had been selected to receive a grant as part of their Outdoor Happiness Movement initiative of 50 projects in 50 states to promote recreation. According to their website, 17 projects have been completed, including Newton’s Memory Park.
McKee foods funds were used to build a pavilion at the pool. In the former picnic and volleyball area now stands a covered shed with open sides. The pavilion was built by people from Pioneer Pole Buildings in a matter of days. The metal roof is burgundy representing Newton Braves colors. Soon there will be a cupola on top with an eagle topped weathervane. The pavilion sits on a concrete pad that will be surrounded by pavers, donated by Grinnell. Picnic tables will also be added.
Why Newton? It turns out there is a strong link between Newton and McKee foods dating back to 1928 when Newton born Newman E. Drake bought and donated the 10+ acres on which Memory Park is built. The donation required the land be used as a playground and recreation area. When the town accepted the original donation in 1929 they appointed a Board of Recreation, naming Drake as president to develop the park.
Drake was the founder of Drakes Cakes, later called Drake’s Bakeries, which was eventually purchased by McKee foods in January 2013.
This is the same Drake for which Drake’s Pond and Drake’s Castle are named. Danielson said the Drakes used to harvest ice from Drakes Pond before refrigeration.
Danielson was told by McKee foods that there was a plaque commemorating the park’s creation. After asking around, the Department of Public Works' unofficial historian Brock Kithcart said he had it in the DPW garage. He also had a smaller plaque that had been placed at a tree dedication ceremony to honor Drake.
“There was not much shaded area for people at the pool to sit and eat,” said Danielson. Now there will be plenty of room for people to be comfortable.
The ribbon cutting dedication ceremony is tentatively schedule for the end of June.