Lucille Taylor has never run in wealthy circles.
She grew up on a dairy and fruit farm on the outskirts of Middleton, leaving school after eighth grade to help care for her siblings and ailing mother.
She and her husband spent their careers in working-class jobs. He drove trucks and fixed engines, she cleaned houses.
“Eight dollars a day when I started,” said Taylor, 82, who lives in Middleton.
Now retired and widowed, Taylor has given $100,000 to the city of Middleton to begin work on a new park. She plans to leave the bulk of her estate to the city after her death to complete the park.
The donation has amazed residents and city officials.
“Lucille and her husband both worked incredibly hard their entire lives, and for them to leave their entire estate for a new park? You just don’t see that kind of generosity very often,” said Penni Klein, the city’s public lands manager.
Taylor said she and her late husband, Harvey John Taylor, who died eight years ago, lived sensibly but had their fun, too. They visited “probably all 50 states” and saw much of the world, including Panama on their 50th wedding anniversary.
She credits smart investments for her late-in-life wealth but seems almost baffled by the sum. “I don’t know how it added up to so much,” she said.
Klein, who has become a close friend of Taylor’s and sat in on the interview, said Taylor is down-to-earth with a thrifty side. “Word on the street is she has the lowest water usage in the city,” she said.
The couple didn’t have children but always wanted them, Taylor said. That’s a big part of the reason behind the gift.
“We always loved to watch children play in parks,” she said. “We talked about this before my husband’s death and decided it was something we wanted to do.”
So in 2005, after her husband’s death, Taylor went to City Hall and asked, “Do I have enough money to buy a park?” The answer was yes, so she worked out the details with lawyers. Initially, the city was to receive no money until her death.
“I wanted to wait until I died because I didn’t want anyone to know,” she said. She’s not a big fan of people making a fuss over her, and she didn’t want to get roped into attending a lot of city meetings.
But then this year, she learned of plans for a park off Highway Q in the new Bishops Bay residential development on the city’s northeast side. A slice of the proposed park once was part of the her family's farm -- the Frank J. Ziegler farm --back when the land was in the town of Westport.
The opportunity to honor her family and agricultural roots won out over her desire for anonymity. She went ahead and donated $100,000 to the city this fall for the first phase of the park, which will be a playground that she’s helping design. It will be the largest playground in size and amount of equipment in the city when completed, Klein said.
“Now I’m glad I did this so I know where the money’s going,” Taylor said. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I live to see it when it’s done.”
That does not appear to be much of a concern right now. Taylor takes no medication and walks or bikes seven miles round-trip from her home to the Middleton Senior Center every day to volunteer.
“I’ve never asked anyone for a ride in eight years,” said Taylor, who doesn’t drive.
“It’s going to be 10-below tonight,” Klein said.
“I don’t think that’s bad,” Taylor said.
The 11.2-acre park will be called the Harvey John and Lucille Taylor Memorial Park. A sign will detail the history of the Ziegler family farm.
Eventually, the park will include walking and biking trails and three football fields. Her husband loved football, Taylor said. The Middleton Cardinal youth summer football leagues currently lack playing fields and will use them as their home, Klein said.
The plan is to install the playground in the spring, with a hoped-for dedication in May, Klein said. Other components of the park will be developed over time, she said.
[Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the farm to be remembered with signage at the planned Harvey John and Lucille Taylor Memorial Park in Middleton.]