Kids make it official: This is Fort La PLAY Porte

WNLP story and photos by Bob Wellinski (story below photos)


“Just listen — you hear those squeals and laughter? That’s what it’s all about.”

The squeals and laughter to which LaPorte City Park and Recreation Department Superintendent Mark Schreiber referred were the “real reviews” kids were giving the newly renovated Fort La Play Porte as they played at its official reopening Friday evening, Aug. 9, 2019.

“I’ve heard a lot of rave reviews from the parents, I’ve heard and read a lot of cool things on social media, but … the squeals and laughter. The kids just love it,” Schreiber told a crowd of a few hundred.

Twenty years after Reuben Everson, Dom Liberatore and a small group rallied the town to build the original Fort La Play Porte, a steering committee led a group of volunteers and donors to update, enlarge and renovate the community’s beloved playland.

The steering committee consisted of Julie Pitman, Lindsey Cooper, Paul Vincent, Brett Binversie, Brian Larson, Michelle Shirk, Pam Carroll, and Cindy Bercham.

“It was 20 years ago the first community build took place and it was quite a community effort. We wanted to try and replicate that and I think we’re pretty pleased with the results,” said Schreiber of the playland located in the southernmost part of the 90-acre Kesling Park.

Schreiber expressed his gratitude toward all the donors and volunteers who contributed to the success of the project. Many businesses, agencies and community services sent groups to help as well.

He especially thanked the hundreds of volunteers who came out rain or shine to share their talents.

Cooper said they had volunteers with various skill levels who contributed to the “patchwork of the overall project.”

“Everyone was vital in the process of building Fort La Play Porte. We were grateful for every person who walked through those gates,” Cooper said. “There was no such thing as a little task.”

What many would consider simple tasks such as staining, sanding or the repetitive job of routing the edges of all the boards to make them safe, helped move the project along.

One of the volunteers, Greg Konieczny, was in 7th grade during the 1999 build and recalled soaping screws. He was also part of the Kesling News Team that came out to shoot video of people working. This time he was putting tension on the zipline, assisting with the concrete pours and created the bench just inside the playland. 

“It’s got a different meaning; my son, James, gets to use it. It’s rewarding someone is enjoying your hard work,” said Konieczny.

LaPorte Mayor Mark Krentz also worked on the original build.

“I have to say it was really an honor for me to see this because I participated 20 years ago when this build happened. It was an honor to be part of that then and I can’t tell you how much more of an honor it is to be the mayor of our city and to see the city come together — the volunteers, the donations, the steering committee — everyone coming together to make something so fun and beautiful for our city. So thank you to all of you. This is a great day for the city of LaPorte,” Krentz said.

Unlike the 1999 build in which the project finished in the 6-day goal, this year didn’t go as planned, no thanks to Mother Nature. 

“When I came out to help work on the park this year, it was raining — which is the way it was most of the time — but everyone worked so hard,” Krentz recalled.

Because it rained 3 of the 6 days (with one of those days being a monsoon, according to Schreiber), only 65-70% of the project was completed at the end of the 6th day.

Schreiber and Cooper both said the team was at a loss as what to do.

“This group looked at each other and said, ‘Now what?’” admitted Schreiber.

The contractor left town to his next build and volunteers were scheduled for just the one week.

“But we did it. We did it with the help of many dedicated volunteers. They were here during the day, evening and weekends and slowly but steadily everything that needed to happen on this beautiful playground happened — and the day it was finished, I think we all cried a little but we were thrilled,” Schreiber said.

He believes a little divine intervention played a part.

“The weeks after the build week, that was miraculous. I can’t say it was anything short of miraculous. We had a 65-70% completed playground and no real idea of how we were going to cross the finish line. And we said, we are just going to have to bite it off chunk by chunk. And that’s what we did.

“We want to obviously thank our very many volunteers. They really are superstars,” Schreiber stressed. He also applauded the extra effort of his staff at the park department.

Cooper agreed.

“It was a family-like environment out there,” she noted. Even in horrible weather.

She recalled on rainy day they had 50-60 volunteers scheduled but organizers didn’t expect anyone to show up. “We actually had 30 people show up and the weather was horrible — it was miserable — there were people huddled up under the shelters staining and they had a good time. We weren’t expecting anybody to come and work, but they did and they enjoyed it.”

Now that it’s open, what does the steering committee think of the results?

“We were just so excited to see the fresh look of Fort La Play Porte with a more open view,” said Cooper. “With plastic replacing most of the wood, it’s safer, will last longer and is very colorful.”

Michelle Shirk stated, “It’s exceeded my expectations. It’s the best of both worlds; it combines the traditional with a total new look that people can be excited about.”

Beth Lehker, who was enjoying the new playland with her great-niece and great-nephew, said it’s parent friendly thanks to the more open view. 

“I think it’s awesome. I like the younger toddler section, the zipline and the activities for the older kids so they don’t feel it’s such a baby place,” Lehker noted. “It’s safe. It’s a great improvement with lots of space. Thank you, everyone who worked on it; it’s greatly appreciated.”

Teri Hajek, who was on the 1999 build committee, said, “We’re delighted and happy that they created this new Fort La Play Porte. It’s updated and what we needed.”

Lois Everson, widow of Reuben, said the renovated playland looks great.

Savannah Lawson, 9, loves the zipline and “how it swings down and pushes you back.” She also enjoys the new monkey bars and the many other activities.

Haylee Kmiec, 12, said he likes the new park. “I like it because there’s a zipline and a lot of new spinning rides. When I walked through the first time, I didn’t know where to begin. I didn’t know where to start. I was amazed at all the changes.”

7-year-old Liam Hammock’s favorite ride was the new merry-go-round. “I like going fast,” he admitted. Liam’s shy 3-year-old sister said her favorite part of the park is the new slide. 

“It was a challenging project, but very rewarding,” Schreiber said. “The reward was in the relationships and friendships that were made with the community out here working side by side, and then obviously the great reward is coming out here and seeing the kids enjoy it. I’ll never forget, and I hope the people here never forget that either,” said Schreiber.

Julie Pitman spoke of how Fort La Play Porte has taken on many names by children who have visited the park: “The Fort,” “Wooden Park,” “The Cool Playground” and even “LaPorte La Play Fort,” to name a few. It’s  because families get out and enjoy it, therefore “building a lore around it.” She added that volunteers will do the same by recalling their time there and possibly thinking of Fort La Play Porte as “The place I learned to countersink a lag bolt,” “the place where the mud destroyed my favorite boots,” or “the place where you saw hundreds of people from your community working together toward a common goal.”

“It’s been fun turning it over to the kids. And now it belongs to them,” said Cooper.

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