For Blossom Jones, attending the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the reopening of Penn Park Wednesday was as much a homecoming as it was a celebration of Madison’s south side.
Jones grew up playing hopscotch and swinging in the park at 2101 Fisher St. and lived not too far from it.
Her grandmother, Blossom Maiden, was a fixture on the south side and a founding member of Mt. Zion Church. Jones’ brother Phinis Horton, who also attended the event, previously ran the South Madison Neighborhood Center and inspired the Southside Raiders football team.
“It is overwhelming. That’s why I said I had to be out here,” said Jones, who currently lives in Charlotte, North Carolina. “The fact that I came here to visit family not knowing this was happening, it’s like I was supposed to come home at this time.”
Back when Jones was young, there was just a slide and a swingset in the park. With the city’s $1.5 million investment, Penn Park now features a renovated shelter, building for restrooms and concessions and a walking path.
“It was a neighborhood park and so to see it grow and blossom into this is really, really great,” Jones said.
Other improvements include replacing the parking lot, athletic field maintenance, bike parking and landscape planting beds. Future investment in Penn Park includes a new playground, improvements to the tennis and basketball court, and additional field improvements, Parks Superintendent Eric Knepp said.
Groups of neighbors and friends, kids from the Dane County Boys & Girls Club and city officials all gathered at the park, milling around the shelter, listening to music and barbecuing to kick off the reopening. Penn Park was closed last year for construction.
Ald. Sheri Carter, District 14, said Penn Park has always been an integral part of the community.
“This is such a wonderful occasion and should go down in history for south Madison,” Carter said.
The seven-acre park is a source of pride for the community. It is home to the Southside Raiders youth football and cheerleading team, and it is the home of the historic Juneteenth celebration.
“Penn Park is the home field of south Madison,” said Ruben Anthony, president and CEO of the Urban League.
Mayor Paul Soglin referenced Jones’ grandmother and brother as individuals who formed the community south Madison is today.
“This park and this neighborhood is the legacy of people who lived here who have made it a strong neighborhood and who worked to make sure we’ve got the park, that we’ve got the public library, that we’ve got the home of the Urban League,” Soglin said.
In addition to the city’s investment in infrastructure improvements, the Madison Community Foundation is supporting park amenities with a $70,000 grant in an initiative called Penn Park Pride.
The grant will be used to install 15 engraved wooden picnic tables in the park, purchase new equipment and permanent signage for the Raiders and a trailer, generator and sound system for community events and activities. It will also fund two internships through the Dane County Boys & Girls Club to facilitate renting recreation equipment and promote bicycle use and repair.
Boys & Girls Club CEO Michael Johnson encouraged ongoing support and investment of not only the park, but for programming for youth and young families.
“It doesn’t stop today,” Johnson said.