A Closer Look
A Community Effort to Counter Hate
Story by Teresa Nguyen
“A small pebble was cast into a large body of water, from which small rings will grow large…demonstrating that if we all care for each other just a little bit more, what positive energy we collectively can have for our children, families and community.”
~ Mike Morris, Peace Park Development Coordinator
This stunningly beautiful playground area known as Peace Park is located within Rockport Park on Janesville’s west side. It is nestled in a woodland area just above the Rock River’s west bank and the S. Willard Street Bridge. It lies between Crosby Avenue and Rockport Road.
In May of 1992, this hilltop location had been the site of a racial hate rally where a 20’ wood cross was to be burned. Thankfully, it was never burned. News of the rally motivated a group of 16 dedicated, community-minded citizens to form the Peace Park Development Committee.
Peace Park Coordinator, Mike Morris, brought it before the City Council for approval. At the meeting, Mike read this statement, “A small pebble was cast into a large body of water, from which small rings will grow large… demonstrating that if we all care for each other just a little bit more, what positive energy we collectively can have for our children, families and community”.
Once approved, the Peace Park Development Committee worked on community awareness, fundraising and involving the youth of the community in its construction. Local, professional groups created the design.
Through thousands of hours or work by the committee and the volunteers, phase one saw the building of the young children’s area between May 16th – 21st in 2000. Phase two began with the construction of the main play area and teepee, built from May 13th – 19th in 2002.
The two-story, eye-catching Native American teepee contains amazing, reproduced peace paintings on the inside, painted by Janesville's Gary Gandy. The series of eight Native American nature paintings represent compass directions important to Native American culture. Gandy’s paintings reflect his interpretation of the world’s people coming together in peace. The word PEACE is hidden in each painting.
The teepee at Peace Park - Photo by Kim Hoholek
The magnificent Peace Pole stands a beacon of peace for all. It is surrounded by benches and soft rubber surfacing in the shape of the earth. Around the earth are bronze plaques promoting the United Nations’ six key values of peace: respect all life, reject violence, share with others, listen to understand, preserve the planet, and rediscover solidarity.
On the one-year anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks, Peace Park officially opened. The dedication ceremony, on September 11, 2002 was extremely well-attended. At the dedication, Mike Morris stated, “Our goal for Peace Park always was and still is to promote peace and unity in the community by giving our children the chance to learn about cultural diversity as they play”.
At the opening of the new park, the Bad River Native American tribe generously presented their Nation’s flag to the park. This event marked only the third time in the tribe’s history that it extended this honor. Led by Billy Bob Grahn, the Native American drum group, Seven Springs All Nations, played several pieces to dedicate the area.
The Peace Pole at the park was constructed in 2005. It was, at the time, the world's tallest peace pole, at 51 feet, and was dedicated on May 28, 2005. It has the inscription “May Peace Prevail on the Earth” and the word for peace is written in 39 different languages around the pole.
The Peace Pole - Photo by Kim Hoholek
According to a written history of the park, the Peace Park Committee held the belief that “if the children play together now, they work together later”.
According to the Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, the accessible playgrounds are some of the best in the city! The City of Janesville also built a large pavilion with a large grill and restrooms that are open from April 15 until October 15. The park is an important linkage to Janesville’s 35-mile bike path, via the Peace Trail, connecting Beloit with Janesville on the west side of the swiftly flowing Rock River.
Trail at Rockport Park - Photo by Kim Hoholek
The late Tony Huml joined the Development Committee when it formed. He then brought his students out to help with the build and spoke of how it meant so much to these kids. This great community of volunteers, including those high school students, who now have children of their own, continue to take pride in their efforts to build this beautiful park for our community!
Thanks to our City of Janesville and the City’s Parks Department for their dedicated upkeep of this meaningful and important park!
“The History of Janesville’s Peace Park” By Mike Morris and Tom Presny
Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau
Interview of the late Tony Huml - Peace Park Development Committee Member