By Arthur Pizzano and James Bell
As do many communities, Fairfield, Ohio, benefits from residents who choose to leave lasting legacies. Located 20 miles north of Cincinnati, Fairfield is a post-war suburban community. Incorporated in 1955, it is home to 45,000 residents today.
Within the past few years, Fairfield has opened two new multimillion dollar parks and recreation facilities without the use of city tax dollars, thanks to the generosity of its residents, both those who have passed on as well as those working to keep the community a vibrant place to live.Both projects were funded primarily through generous private donations and in-kind contributions from groups and individual community members. One facility meets the needs of the area’s youth and adults with special needs, while the other provides environmental stewardship learning opportunities for families and individuals.
Miracle League Fields
Former major league baseball player and longtime Cincinnati Reds radio announcer Joe Nuxhall had the vision for the Hatton Park/Nuxhall Miracle League Fields. Nuxhall is most remembered for having been the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game, pitching two-thirds of an inning for the Reds at the age of 15 years and 316 days. He was called upon for that one game due to player shortages during World War II. Nuxhall went on to have a 16-year major league career and a 40-year career as the Reds radio broadcaster.
Locally, Nuxhall is most remembered in the community for his philanthropic efforts. One of his dreams was that every child should have the opportunity to play baseball, regardless of any physical or mental limitation. He shared his dream with the city, and it responded in 2009 by providing a six-acre parcel of city-owned property for two handicapped-friendly ball fields. The property, adjacent to the city’s youth football fields and public utilities campus, was part of a 30-acre buffer between the facilities and the neighborhoods.
Unfortunately, Nuxhall died before seeing his dream come true. With the site secured, however, Joe’s son, Kim, continued his father’s dream and began fund-raising efforts through the Nuxhall Foundation. The community embraced the concept and major financial and “in-kind” contributors came forward to fund the $2.5 million project.
The Cincinnati-based Hatton Foundation provided the largest donation to the projects fundraising efforts by challenging the community with a $500,000 matching grant commitment. The local business and community responded with a $675,000 commitment. In-kind contributions of labor and materials totaling more than $1.5 million completed the project’s goal and construction began.
Throughout the process, the city provided construction management and waived permits and inspection fees, along with providing numerous promotional articles though city media outlets.
With construction projects being scarce due to the economic slowdown, several local labor unions, dedicated to the dream, donated their members’ time and talents to the project. An estimated 3,000-man-hours of electrical work alone were donated.
Other philanthropic gestures included a local excavator, using his under-used labor pool, donating all the site work on the project. A local sign company also donated the lighted LED scoreboards and video boards.
The seven-year dream became a reality with the construction of the region’s first multifield baseball complex suitable for tournament play for the disabled. The complex was dedicated on the 68th anniversary of Joe Nuxhall’s first major league appearance, July 28, 2012.
The complex was specially designed and equipped so that athletes with special needs have the opportunity to play baseball. Two rubberized fields have brick dugouts with electrical outlets for the use by athletes who need oxygen or a charge for their wheelchair.
A “Red Monster” wall, duplicating the left-field “Green Monster” wall in the Boston Red Sox stadium is located in left field of each diamond to give participants the feeling of playing in an actual major league baseball stadium. An LED video board also gives players the ability to watch themselves as they are out on the field playing the game.
Stadium-like seating and a fully functional concession area provide spectators an enjoyable experience while viewing games. Continued fund-raising efforts, through the Joe Nuxhall Miracle League Fields Foundation, provide for the ongoing capital and operational funds for the facility.
The facility is operated from early spring until late fall for the special needs community to participate in youth baseball and adult softball, and it is used for the local school district’s special education classes. Throughout spring, summer, and fall, more than 1,000 individuals are able to participate in sports at the facility.
Huffman Park: A Natural Discovery Center
The 22-acre Huffman Farm had been a part of the Fairfield community for generations. Mr. and Mrs. Harold Huffman owned the property for more than 50 years, purchasing it from Huffman’s grandfather, who came to America in the 1800s from Germany.
The couple did not have children, but had several nieces and nephews who spent many summers enjoying the outdoors on the farm. Maintaining the farm as natural open spaces and providing outdoor activities for children were the Huffman’s wishes prior to their passing.
The Huffman family established the Anna and Harold W. Huffman Foundation to make their wish a reality. To fulfill the Huffman’s dreams, the foundation approached several parks agencies, including Fairfield, and requested proposals for the use of the property.
The foundation selected the city’s proposal to transform the property into a “children’s natural discovery center.” It not only donated the property to the city but also provided $900,000 to fund the site’s development. The park was to be designed to provide an interactive outdoor learning experience for the community, operated by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and funded through the department’s programming and general fund budgets.
One of the challenges during construction was whether to use the farmhouse that was located on the property. The foundation had requested that the farmhouse be used onsite if possible.
To refurbish the house into a nature center proved to be cost prohibitive. With agreement of the foundation, the materials were repurposed throughout the site. The house was deconstructed on the site by a local nonprofit social agency, which provides hands-on training for novices to acquire skills necessary to work in the building trades.
The house was taken apart from the roof down through the deconstruction process, and materials were recycled, salvaged, or repurposed on-site. Stone from the house was incorporated into the park and used to construct the restrooms, shelters, park signage, and fire pit.
The park was designed to provide an interactive learning experience, and it features learning stations located throughout the half-mile paved walking trail, as well as a play area that includes such structures found in nature as a balance-beam log, tree steppers, a ring of boulders, and two earthen mounds with slides and a tunnel.
The butterfly garden features a butterfly climbing structure and a maze mound intertwined with “butterfly friendly” landscaping. Since children enjoy socializing on a playground, special flower talk tubes were installed to allow the children to stand at opposite ends of the garden and communicate back and forth. The hillside is lined with trees, creating a fruit and nut orchard.
An aeration windmill sends air into an on-site retention pond through an airline buried underground, and then air is released into the pond in the form of bubbles. This is designed to keep the pond algae free and mosquitos away. Community gardens were installed to keep with the farming theme.
These two projects, although different in scope, brought the spirit of community together and provide a lasting legacy to the Nuxhall and Huffman families. Through the generosity and resolve of the community, the two public/private partnership achievements offer unique recreational opportunities, and are a definite source of pride for the city of Fairfield.