Welles Park (2333 W. Sunnyside Ave.) wasn’t always Welles Park, point of pride for the Lincoln Square neighborhood. For that, it owes a debt to George Poulos, park supervisor from 1973 to 1990, credited with creating the programming and spirited environment that saw the park blossom under his tenure.
Last Saturday, the Welles Park community repaid that debt, dedicating the new north playground in Poulos’ name during a touching ceremony that honored the man and his legacy.
“It’s a beautiful day to celebrate a beautiful man,” said Monica Schulter, speaking on behalf of her parents, Rosemary and Gene Schulter (former 47th Ward alderman). “You have played a pivotal role in the community as a whole.”
Children who grew up at the park returned as adults with their families to take part in the ceremony for Poulos, whom they still clearly regard with respect and affection. “When George got here, he created a sense of belonging for every kid that walked through the door,” said John Moran. The playground’s dedication plaque (a boulder actually) will serve as a reminder to future patrons “how much it took to build this park to where we are today.”
Current supervisor Becky Kliber, a self-described “park rat” as a youngster, came to work at Welles Park 25 years ago, and spoke in glowing terms of her former boss. “For me this is very much home, and it’s home because of George,” she said. “George set the standard beyond Welles Park, because a lot of parks want to be Welles Park.”
For Poulos, who’s suffered from MS for more than 11 years and is now wheelchair-bound, the day offered a chance to reminisce and reconnect with old friends. “Oh, it picks him up,” said his wife Michele. “He was so excited.”
Speaking into a bullhorn, his voice barely rising above a whisper, Poulos conveyed his appreciation: “I want to thank all my family, I want to thank everyone for coming. I have so many memories about everybody that’s here today.”
More than having playgrounds and streets dedicated in his name (the strip of Sunnyside adjacent to the park was renamed in his honor three years ago), the greatest tribute to Poulos is the community’s ongoing stewardship of Welles Park.
Stephen Waguespack, president of the Welles Park Advisory Council, is overseeing a revitalized effort to ensure the park serves all of its myriad users, ranging from kids and seniors to dog lovers and bocce ball players. Annual events such as Circus in the Parks are great when it comes to raising funds for playgrounds, but those dollars can’t be directed elsewhere. (The park’s south playground, which serves older kids, will be dismantled and replaced with a new one that will be situated just west of the toddler area.)
“We’re trying to figure out these other programs,” said Waguespack. “We’re looking to engage everyone who wants to use the park.”
Area residents are invited to attend upcoming meetings of the advisory council. The next meeting is scheduled for July 9, 7 p.m., at the Welles Park Field House.