ELKHART — Decades-long city volunteer Mike Sweet was surprised by parks superintendent Randall Norton on Tuesday, as Norton revealed that a new park will be named Michael J. Sweet Park.
“When Mike Sweet signed on as an advocate for the City of Elkhart, he must have been wholeheartedly committed,” said Norton.
Since first volunteering for the city more than 40 years, Sweet’s work has been felt at the Elkhart Historical and Cultural Preservation Commission, the Rhapsody Arts and Music Festival, the Elkhart Jazz Festival, the New York City Central Railroad Museum and Parks & Recreation, to name some, said Norton.
Sweet also served as an at-large City Council member from 1976-1983 and served as council president for three years.
“I can go on and on and say all of the wonderful things that he has done for the city and the department. The list really goes on,” said Norton.
Norton became parks superintendent in December 2018 and said Sweet has played a vital role in getting him through the transition.
“He has filled me in on everything that’s going on and why we’re at where we’re at,” he said.
So when it came time to find a name for the new park between Bristol Street and Sunset Avenue, Michael J. Sweet Park was an easy choice. Norton said the department received many recommendations from staff and volunteers who wanted Sweet’s many years of service to be recognized.
City Councilwoman Pam Kurpgeweit, R-6, who is the council’s Park Board liaison, also spoke on Sweet’s dedication to the city.
“I’ve known Mike for quite a few years now through the public service to the community, and I am proud and honored to have met you and have worked with you. You are a great asset to Elkhart,” said Kurpgeweit.
Items on the Park Board agenda are generally descriptive of what will be discussed, but this one was simply listed as “Mayor Neese.” And it would seem every person who knew the secret kept their lips tight, as the announcement caught Sweet completely by surprise, he said.
“It feels humbling,” said Sweet.
He said that when he moved to Elkhart in 1962, he knew nobody at first. But people were welcoming, and now his name will be on this park for many years to come.
For Sweet, a great incentive to get involved as a volunteer was to give back to the people who made Elkhart a good place to live. And there’s a reason that much of his effort has been concentrated on parks.
“ I fell in love with the parks here. And I’m a strong advocate for better use of the parks,” he said.
Sweet said it feels somewhat ironic that his name will now be on an Elkhart park.
“Because I’ve helped get other people’s names on parks,” he said. “It’s unbelievable.”
The park will be on a currently empty lot between Bristol Street and Sunset Avenue, bordering Lily Creek, which Sweet said was one of the first places he would seek out when he moved to the city.
Exactly what the 1.5-acre park will feature and when it will be completed is still unclear, since the department is currently in the process of creating a 5-year masterplan, said Norton.
But the vision includes a playground and a place for families to spend time together outside.
The park will be officially dedicated later this year.
Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter at @ReadRasmus