As the voices of children could be heard laughing and hollering as they played on the main playground at Elkin Municipal Park, a large crowd gathered Sunday just after noon at the entrance to the facility to give Peggy Dudley a well-deserved birthday honor she’ll never forget.
“I guess on our best days, we all try to make a contribution here or there, but not many of us can say that generation and generation we have an impact on children of this community for the better,” said the Rev. Stuart Taylor, pastor of Elkin Presbyterian Church, where Dudley is a long-time member. “They have been formed in her love, and they have come to know God’s love through Peggy’s love.
“This is a God image right here, an image of God,” Taylor said of Dudley.
The special gathering Sunday was a surprise to Dudley, which was announced just before church let out, with those who were able joining community members who had gathered waiting on the church crowd to join them at the playground.
A plaque has been placed at the entrance of the playground area honoring Dudley’s efforts of making the playground a possibility so many years ago.
“It’s not just the work she’s done in our congregation Elkin Presbyterian Church. That’s substantial, that would be enough, the Christian education program, the preschool, but also the work she’s done in the larger community including many years ago taking on this project of making this into a playground suitable for children,” said Taylor. “How many children and families have enjoyed this since then.”
Dudley, who spent 30 years as a preschool teacher and 19 years on the town’s Recreation Committee, shared how the playground came about, giving much credit to John O’Connell and the late Kyle Johnson for their help. “We didn’t have anything here, nothing here to enjoy,” she said of the area where the park was created.
“When they said, ‘We’re going to have tennis courts, we’re going to have all that,’ I listened to them say $10,000 for this tennis court, and $10,000 for that one, and I said, ‘How much do I get for the children, for the tot area,’ and they said $2,000,” Dudley recalled.
She said she knew she couldn’t purchase and install large playground equipment with that money, because they cost from $10,000 to $15,000 or more. “I drew crude pictures and said [to O’Connell, who she called a master craftsman] this is what I want and this is what children enjoy, and he presented them to me.”
Using wood slabs that they hoped would last until the town could afford equipment like what is found at the playground now, O’Connell installed “a fort, slabs, all sorts of things you could crawl through and crawl over and crawl under, things I knew children liked, so that was how it came about,” Dudley said. Johnson provided his services by using his backhoe to dig 60 holes for the installation.
Adam McComb, Elkin’s recreation and parks director and assistant town manager, shared his memory of playing on the original playground apparatus during the gathering. “I remember the wooden fort as a kid that I used to love to run through and climb on and runaround on, and have my mom fuss at me for getting all the stuff off me when I got in the car,” he said. “I just had a great time with it, and it’s my privilege to be able to be in this environment.”
He noted the growth the town has built upon the original recreation facilities created, now having two more playgrounds available in town. “It’s my privilege to be able to work in an environment where I get to walk to the pool and hear children playing on the playground and laughing and having a good time.”
“It’s people like Peggy that make Elkin such a great community, because they’re willing to pitch in and make up the shortfalls we sometimes have,” said Mayor Sam Bishop. “That’s like right now, we’re going through the Explore Elkin movement to get people involved, and Peggy was one of the innovators that did that.
“I’m a retired recreation superintendent. I came here to Elkin and I’ve been to parks and recreation facilities all over the state and Adam has, too, and you will not find a finer parks and recreation facility in a town of 4,000 people than you will find here in Elkin,” he said. “It’s because of people like Peggy who were willing to take that extra step and go that extra mile to get things done. It’s leadership like hers that really make Elkin great.”
The sign was unveiled with Dudley amazed at its beauty, which included butterflies and flowers around the wording, which recognized her contributions to making the playground possible. The plaque notes the area as “Peggy’s Playground.”
“That is just beautiful,” Dudley said. “Thank you so much.”
After a round of ovation, Taylor led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Dudley and then welcomed everyone to visit with her and enjoy refreshments under the small shelter at the playground.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.