Community volunteer documents park memorials

Every once in a while, an exceptionally good idea hits you when you least expect it.
In Jim Malek’s case, the uber-volunteer for the City of Midland was riding his bicycle along the Pere Marquette Rail-Trail during the warmer days of early summer, when he passed a tan-colored bench on a cement slab inscribed with a memorial to a family’s loved one who has passed.

There are numerous benches along the Rail-Trail which offer respite for weary walkers, runners and bikers and all are maintained by the City of Midland Parks and Recreation Department

Capture of a map of memorials in City of Midland parks. Memorial locations represent by symbols of a bench.
Since he too has dedicated a bench to his late wife, Colice Pearcy Malek, along the same trail near the spray park, he wondered if extended family members could easily find the memorial should they want to see it. But his thinking went a step further, and he wondered if a computer locator could be developed to help people interested in family genealogy, or perhaps those just visiting Midland, find the marker. He thought maybe a photo of the bench and inscription, a geographical location and other identifying information could accompany the entry in a searchable database.

So he took his idea to Stephanie Richardson, who doubles as city horticulturist and lead supervisor of the Forestry and Parks Divisions. She has taken his idea, it is something she also has given thought to during the past few years, very seriously, and, considering how much time and effort Malek has put into various city projects over the last quarter century or so, reasonably so.

“So what you got?” he said he asked her when inquiring about whether she thought inventorying the sofa-size rest areas was worthwhile. So she inventoried the inventory and both her and Malek were astounded.
Community volunteer Jim Malek documents location of memorial bench at Currie Golf Course.
“There was a lot,” Malek said, as he and this reporter were gazing at a computer screen over lunch at Brinstar Arcade Bar and Grill on East Main Street, a stone’s throw from the rail-trail. The screen showed what appeared to be small white squares, each representing a memorial maintained by the city - against the city map backdrop. 

In reality, they are teeny-tiny bench icons, and there were many more than the couple dozen or so Malek thought he might try to find and photograph, dig up (not literally) the GIS data and recheck who owned a particular bench.

Even Richardson was surprised with the amount of memorials dedicated since the first bench was set upon the cement base in 2012. She also was impressed with how spread out the benches are across the city with some in or adjacent to just about every park, ballfield, golf course (yes, disc golf course too), trail and recreation and nature area that the city owns. One even sits facing the runway at the Barstow Municipal Airport and another is outside City of Midland Fire Department #1, honoring a former firefighter. 

Memorial bench outside Fun Zone in Plymouth Park
So in mid-summer, Malek was provided with a city laptop and he set out in search of the more than 100 markers, not including nine in storage, removed from Emerson Park when Currie Stadium was razed and not brought back out yet. Two months later, he is done, “as far as I am concerned” and he turned the laptop with all the information in to Richardson this week. 

Most of the memorials, he says, were fairly easy to document and photograph, such as the ones along the trails, at Plymouth Park and the Redcoat Complex, Some were a little harder to find, such as those a little further apart in the City Forest.

Some, Malek says were downright difficult, even with some clues, such as one at the Chippewa Banks Disc Golf Course on Pine River Road, “I had to have help to find those."
Jim Malek
Karen Murphy, director of the city Public Services, says she has no idea the number of hours Malek invested in the project, but she isn’t surprised, considering the number of projects and project hours the scientist and chemist has volunteered for since retiring from the Dow Corning Corp. in 2000.

A self-described ‘fireworks aficionado” she is impressed with his overseeing the Fourth of July fireworks displays as well as other event fireworks. Then there is the assistance with Riverdays, Midland Community Television, Downtown Development Authority, and the list goes on. “He is generous and certainly supports the Midland community,” Murphy says.

While Malek’s part of the project might be done, data information now is being organized, Richardson and Murphy say, and hopefully soon a database will be available to access information which might help them in their quest to easily locate the benches.

In the meantime, they say, information including memorial location, coordinates, a description of the site and a photograph of the description can be obtained by contacting the City of Midland Parks and Recreation Department.

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Read more articles by Ralph E. Wirtz.

Ralph E. Wirtz is a native Midlander who retired from the Midland Daily News as a managing editor in 2015. He has been freelancing since then in between traveling and volunteering. He has four adult children, all who graduated from Bullock Creek High School as he did. He is an eight-year veteran of the U.S. Navy and a Central Michigan University grad. He can be reached at