A Tree Grows in Banting Park

by Don Browne

WAUKESHA, WI – Back in early November – the first Saturday morning of that month – where it felt more like winter than fall, about 30 friends, neighbors and family members gathered in Banting Park for the official planting and dedication of a memorial tree to honor our beloved friend, Ron Frederick, who passed away that previous April. It was a fitting tribute to a man who lived across the street from the park for the last 50 years, and raised his children in this park with his wife, Bonnie.

Fast forward six months to last Wednesday, May 20th, and my daughter’s softball team gets to hold their first in-person practice since the “Safer-at-Home” ban was lifted. Though just another practice, it felt like Opening Day or a playoff game to me. For all the traveling we’ve had to do all over Waukesha for our kids’ baseball/softball practices, and all over the region for tournaments, this would be the first baseball “event” on our home field – Ron Frederick’s home field.

It didn’t matter who was playing, Ron loved watching kids of all ages playing ball at the diamonds across from his home. You would see him sitting in his lawn chair from the end of the driveway, enjoying our great American pastime. In healthier days, Ron would even journey out to the bleachers to get a closer look at the action. And since this particular Wednesday was the first warm sunny day following several days of cold rain, there was something else magical that was taking place. Ron’s little tree was in full bloom. The rain had done its job well, and those of us who contributed funds to the Ron Frederick Memorial Tree fun, were overjoyed by the tiny morning glory buckeye’s emergence.

We were looking forward to another exciting baseball season for three reasons. One was that the Blazers club that our kids are a part of would be playing its home games in the Waukesha Parks District – as opposed to the racketeers at Five Diamonds and their assault by privatization on our national pastime. The second was that our kids were scheduled to play games in our neighborhood parks, which also include Priedeman Park, which was initially designated to be our daughter’s home field. And the third was to pay tribute to Ron’s memory with another tree dedication to kick off the baseball season at Banting.

It goes without saying that the disruption of the baseball season and most of the summer recreations certainly pales in comparison to the many lives lost and the suffering of their families and countless others who have had to endure the COVID-19 virus. But the impact of this crisis on our children should not be overlooked either. They are being deprived of the best moments of their youth when separated from friends, school and the things they enjoy doing most.

Ron Frederick’s tree is a celebration of youth as much as it is of a life. It was about his love for baseball and the thrill he got from watching kids play the game. It is my hope to honor this legacy by having the players on both teams acknowledging the tree after every game and practice. They could walk up and lift their bats up at the tree the way that hockey players do on the ice, or simply tips their hats. And if it’s practice, they could run a lap around the tree.
But there’s more. Together with Bonnie Frederick, we are starting the Ronald J. Frederick Foundation to raise money to make baseball affordable and accessible to our many youth who come from lower income families. We were hoping to hold a baseball-themed picnic on July 3rd at Banting Park that would raise awareness and funds for the cause. And we were looking forward to an inaugural Pro-Am Pickleball tournament at Banting Park’s third gem – the pickleball courts. Considered the finest courts in the region, this Labor Day invitational was really going to put our park on the map. Instead, it along with most of the summer fun, has been postponed until next year.

But baseball will be played, and we are grateful for that, especially if we are continuing to use best practices for health and safety as we navigate through this pandemic. During this “new normal,” we have learned to slow down and appreciate the little things that make our world so beautiful. There seems to be more birds of more different feathers than we have ever seen before. We are walking the dog more and marveling at all the beauty that lives in our neighborhood. And if nothing else, we get to watch a tree grow in Banting Park.

The Ronald J. Frederick Memorial Tree is part of the Waukesha Parks, Recreation & Forestry’s Community Roots Program. Members of the community can now honor and celebrate a family member, friend or work associate by planting a tree in a city park on their behalf. Forestry staff will assist in selecting a beautiful site and an appropriate tree, suitable for the occasion and the individual to be honored. Trees will be purchased, planted and maintained by the forestry division.