Back when there were no electronic devices such as video games and Smartphones, there was a place called Mound Park, located between 17th Street and Grant Street in Portsmouth, and it was a bustling place where children went to play ball and any other game they could find inside the historic stone house. People came from miles around to see the Native American mound as well. Then the park and the stone house as well as another building in that park fell into tremendous disrepair.
Along came Allison and Jim Kalb, who made it their life’s work to restore those facilities and make them functional again. Despite health issues, Allison Kalb has charged ahead and gotten a lot done at Mound Park, and takes pride in what has been accomplished there.
“This building, when we came in in 1994, was completely gutted. There was one wire light bulb hanging in the middle of the ceiling,” Allison Kalb said. “So we approached City Council with the idea of restoring this building and putting new bathrooms in.”
Ironically, it was that effort that launched the political career of her husband, current Mayor Jim Kalb, who has also served as the city’s strong mayor prior to the implementation of the city manager form of government.
“We sat through nine months of City Council meetings,” Jim Kalb said. “Finally they said, okay and gave us a chance and we had prices on what we wanted to do over there. It was over $100,000. I think we raised $10,000 and a lot of credit goes to the Scioto Area Foundation. They believed in us and gave us a chance to get started.”
Kalb said the closest person to him challenged him leading to the project’s success.
“My wife convinced me that we could put restrooms up there,” Jim said. “So we put a group together and got a bunch of good people and had a lot of people help us remodeling it.”
After months of City Council meetings, the persistence paid off.
“Finally, at the end of the year, we had done everything they asked us to do,” Allison said. We just wanted to restore the building and have restrooms. Then we thought – maybe we could do summer kids programs here too.”
It was after that original effort that John Thatcher, then a member of City Council, brought it all to a head.
“He said, ‘these people have been coming here every meeting for a year and they’ve done everything we’ve asked, let’s give them a chance,’” Kalb said.
Kalb made it a point to assure Council they were not asking the city to do anything, they would cover the cost, they just wanted permission to do the restoration.
“We raised money and we got a grant from the Scioto Area Foundation and a lot of local businesses, doctors, concerned citizens donated money,” Allison said. “Businesses donated supplies – Architectural Building Supply on Grant Street, donated our doors – and Cornett Windows donated the windows. Hershel Lott did our plumbing and provided a lot of the plumbing supplies. The bathroom fixtures are from the old post office.”
Allison said the list of people who helped out with supplies and manpower was too large to list, but she said it was a team effort. After the building was restored, they did summer youth programs including an ettiquette class with Dottie Justice, Native American classes where the children were taught about Native American culture, and they were given tests at the end of summer to see what they had learned. Trophies were awarded. Jim Kalb said at times there were 40-60 children a day participating.
“We accomplished what we wanted to do and the third year we entered a contest sponsored by Midwest Living Magazine and Toyota Corporation, for best community project, and we won,” Jim said. “They came and presented us with a check and an award for our efforts. That was real nice after the work we did on it.”
There was a lot going on at Mound Park in those days.
“We had magic shows, line dancing classes, arts and crafts classes, they could check out game equipment and come outside and play,” Allison said. “Through the (SOMC) Life Center we had picture ID cards for the kids to check in and they wore name badges so we could keep track of them that way.”
Wednesday was movie day, with a movie, popcorn and juice for the children.
“They would watch the movie on our small TV, but they loved it,” Allison said. “We had surround sound, but we had a tiny TV.”
That was the routine for several years.
Now, a major cleanup has brought the park back to life with a large wood playground area and restoration of the old tennis courts into the new playground for pickleballers. On Saturday morning, graduates from the decade of the 70s, cleaned up the park and planted flowers.
“The building now is there for special occasions,” Jim said. “A lot of churches use it, schools, people use it for a birthday party or a wedding shower, or for just about anything.”
Jim Kalb is quick to add it took more than just he and Allison to get the job done.
“It was a group of people. We couldn’t have done it without all the help that we had,” JIm said. “When we needed concrete work, we had a friend (Bobby Bratchett) show up. We needed plumbing work, we had a plumber (Hershel Lott) show up and brought out fixtures and everything. Electric work, the same thing. It was a group effort.”
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.