Morris Family Gives $50K for Ann Arbor Park

Leslie and Michael Morris are donating $50,000 to the city of Ann Arbor in support of South University Park, located at South University Avenue and Walnut. They were recognized for their contribution at the June 21, 2011 meeting of the Ann Arbor park advisory commission. Leslie Morris is a former park commissioner and served on city council for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Leslie Morris described how their family had moved to the neighborhood in 1969, when they’d been among many families with young children there – it was less expensive than the Burns Park neighborhood, and located near Angell Elementary School. They enlisted the help of their councilmember at the time, Bob Faber, who convinced an absentee landlord of two vacant houses to demolish the structures and let the neighbors use the land as a park. Neighbors then developed it themselves, she recalled, putting in playground equipment and other amenities, and taking care of maintenance like mowing and snow removal. It was heavily used, she recalled.

After about five years, they convinced the city to buy the land and add it to the parks system, she said. But over the decades, children in the families grew up and the neighborhood changed. Their own children grew up, she said, and she and her husband moved to a different part of town. The playground equipment aged and was removed, but wasn’t replaced.

The park is located in a densely populated area, she said, and needs to be redeveloped to suit the needs of the people who live there now. They hope that the parks staff will engage the neighbors in a discussion of how to redevelop the park, and use their contribution to get things started.

Michael Morris added that their efforts years ago to organize the neighbors for that park led them to become more civically engaged – culminating in the service of Leslie Morris on the Ann Arbor city council, elected in Ward 2. He recommended that others get involved in the community in whatever way they can. ”It’s been a rewarding time for us, and I’m pleased we’re able to do more to continue the life of that park.”

PAC chair Julie Grand thanked them for both their donation and their commitment to the city’s parks. Parks manager Colin Smith called the gift incredibly generous, and said it would go a long way toward redeveloping South University Park.

This brief was filed soon after adjournment of PAC’s meeting in the second-floor city council chambers, located at 301 E. Huron. A more detailed report will follow: [link]