Sheridan Park in Cudahy is about to celebrate its 100th birthday. We meet two people – one dedicated to the park’s future; the other has written book she hopes lures more people into all of Milwaukee’s green spaces.
Antoinette Vnuk grew up in Cudahy, raised her family here and now lives within eyeshot of the park.
“Growing up, I didn’t live as close to the park as I do now, so our trips to the park were a little but farther and fewer between. But when we came, we were here for the whole day. So if we went to the pool to go swimming, we would end up staying afterwards and play in the park until it got dark and it would be time to go home,” Vnuk says.
Years later, married with children, Vnuk’s family gravitated to the park for her sons’ baseball games and the annual 4th of July celebration.
“Cudahy 4th of July parade ends here every single year and so this place is awash with people. They have games for kids, they have food, the Lions Club has stuff set up,” Vnuk says.
Her four children long-since grown; she’s seven times a grandmother, but Vnuk and her husband plan to stay put in their home overlooking the park and Lake Michigan.
“When they all come to visit, this is the first place we all go. Even during the winter. Last winter we trudged around in the snow with our grandsons thought it was so neat because it had just started to freeze and we walked them along the edge of the lagoon and they could actually see through the ice and they just thought it was the neatest thing. You know if you don’t have parks, you can’t do that” Vnuk says.
About five years ago, concern about Sheridan Park motivated Vnuk to help form a volunteer friends group.
“A lot of us walk our pets through the park and we were tired of the fact that things were a mess, nothing was cleaned up, nobody was doing anything,” Vnuk says.
Vnuk says the county parks workers strain under tightened budgets.
“You now have these people having to work their way through five or six or seven different parks,” Vnuk says.
She says the park friends try to be the eyes and ears watching out for the park; and occasionally pick up garbage on the side. Sheridan Park Friends also stage annual “weed out” and clean up events. Vnuk says the group also hopes to spearhead park improvement; first order of business, to shore up the park pavilion.
“We just recently received a $66,000 grant to improve things here at the park. We’re hoping they’ll work on the roof and the rain gutters and the windows. And then long-term dream would be if we could update the inside a little bit. Because this building is rented out for birthday parties and weddings, it’d be ideal to get a kitchen counter with a sink, where people could actually have a full-blown party and not worry about how am I going to keep the food warm or how am I going to clean things up,” Vnuk says.
About the time Vnuk was rallying volunteer support for Sheridan, Barbara Ali made her way into it and Milwaukee’s other parks as she began to explore with her young child.
“I have a son with Down Syndrome and I joined a park group and every Friday we would meet at a different park during the summer. So it started off like most moms with parks and playgrounds and picnics,” Ali says.
But she discovered there was much more to the parks.
“And each place was a little bit different, so it just gives you a wide variety. Here in Milwaukee we are very fortunate,” Ali says.
She began to blog her discovers and capturing hundreds of photographs.
Ali decided to blend her writing and images into a book. 101 Things to Do in Milwaukee Parks is a paperback with black and white images, all her own.
“I want my book to be a resource guide; I want it to be something you keep in your glove box or your backpack and write notes in. It’s meant to be used, it’s not meant to be a coffee table book,” Ali says.
Antoinette Vnuk can’t promise she’ll dive into Ali’s book immediately; she’ll be immersed with Sheridan Park’s centennial for months to come; starting with the kick off celebration on February 14.
“And then on the 22nd of February they’re having the flat tire race and then all of the grade schools are doing projects for Sheridan Park; and then the Cudahy Rec Department is going to have an Easter egg hunt here on April 12. And then the 4th of July celebration. They’re trying to do something every month all the way for the year,” Vnuk says.
In the meantime, Barbara Ali doesn’t plan to hold still. She’s already immersed in a new project.
“It’ll be about adventures in “dairy land”; things that you can do in Wisconsin that are maybe over and above what you see in the guidebooks,” Ali says.