Utica City Council approves two separate park names

By: Sarah Wojcik | Shelby - Utica News | Published October 16, 2017

 On Oct. 10, the Utica City Council voted 6-1 to rename half of the park next to Utica City Hall “Memorial Park” and the other half as “Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park.”

On Oct. 10, the Utica City Council voted 6-1 to rename half of the park next to Utica City Hall “Memorial Park” and the other half as “Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park.”

File photo

UTICA — On Oct. 10, the Utica City Council voted to make two separate parks out of the grassy area adjacent to Utica City Hall that, up until Dec. 13, 2016, had been colloquially called Memorial Park.

The site of the Veterans Memorial will now be called “Memorial Park.” The other portion of the grassy area will be called “Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park.”

The compromise came after hours of back-and-forth during two Utica City Council meetings, as well as an ad hoc committee meeting and a Utica Downtown Development Authority meeting.

Passions flared and, at times, the discussion became heated.

“I am really disappointed by some of the behavior that some people expressed,” Utica Mayor Thom Dionne said. “We’re one small town and we live together. I get that emotions run high. … The hurt feelings and the upset toward us is not something any of us wanted.”

On Dec. 13, 2016, the Utica City Council voted to rename Memorial Park the Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park during Noonan’s last meeting as mayor. Mayor Pro Tem Ken Sikora cast the single nay vote, and Noonan abstained from voting.

On July 11, the city held a rededication ceremony for the Veterans Memorial that Dionne decided, with the unanimous financial support of the DDA, to move from behind City Hall to a more prominent location in the park.

“I came in the back door when I got elected and noticed the monument. I never noticed it before. I just didn’t,” Dionne said at the Oct. 10 meeting. “It wasn’t that it wasn’t nice. It was a decent place. … I thought it was a fine move. Not one person in this room can argue that it’s not in a better spot today.”

Shortly after the move, Dionne said, he was approached by Phil Randazzo, Shelby Township’s veteran events coordinator and a combat veteran who served in the Vietnam War during the Tet Offensive in 1968, about renaming the park Veterans Memorial Park.

“I said I’m not going to take that to council, but I can’t stop you,” Dionne said. “I talked to (Utica Clerk) Beth (Ricketts) to put it on the agenda.”

At the Sept. 12 City Council meeting, when the issue first appeared on the agenda, Shelby Township resident and Vietnam veteran Kenneth Deman said the former location and upkeep of the Veterans Memorial was “a disgrace.”

On Oct. 10, Councilman Chuck Cuddington, a Vietnam veteran and superintendent of the Utica Cemetery, said he felt torn because he has “the deepest respect for Jackie (Noonan).” He added that he took care of the memorial and that it was “no disgrace.”

“I can’t think of anybody I’ve known as intelligent and with such a great memory about any situation (as Noonan),” Cuddington said. “The only way we can solve this good is we need to compromise. No one person is right from the other.”

He added that he felt the Dec. 13, 2016, vote to name the park the Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park was a “mistake.” He said it was the Utica Department of Public Works who “literally built the park by hand.”

“It should be called Memorial Park,” he said. “I would also like to see Jackie’s name — Jackie’s Riverwalk — on the same area. One end says the park, and one end says Jackie’s Riverwalk. She had more to do with that than anybody, because if it wasn’t for her, it would never have got done.”

Councilman William Osladil, a veteran and a witness to Noonan’s efforts within the city, became emotional when faced with the decision Oct. 10.

Councilwoman Faith Terenzi said she was not entirely pleased with the compromise, but voted in favor of the two park names. She said Dionne never told or asked her about relocating the memorial.

Dionne said that because it is a city asset, he did not have to, but he thought he apprised most members of City Council of his intent.

“I don’t understand how not naming the park Veterans Memorial Park dishonors veterans so long as the memorial is there and we’re maintaining the memorial,” Councilman Perry Sylvester said. “We should retain the name we have and are still honoring the veterans.”

Sikora said he does not like compromise because “I like to win, but nobody’s going to win on this one.” He proposed the idea of splitting the park in half and dedicating half to the veterans, with a sign and an attractive fence to mark it as a place for reverence, and half to Noonan.

“I didn’t like her all the time, but I didn’t hate her,” he said. “I love a challenge. I like an argument. She was fun.”

Randazzo told those gathered at the Oct. 10 meeting to remember that “maybe tonight we might lose five more overseas; we might lose 12 tomorrow.”

“Them 57 over there that you have on that memorial site, they can’t talk for themselves. Their parents can’t talk for them, because they’re dead too,” Randazzo said. “I throw the mercy of them 57 KIAs out there; I throw it on the council.”

Gus Calandrino, a Utica resident, DDA member and veteran, gave relatives of Noonan gathered in the audience the opportunity to remove their children while he spoke because “some of the comments I make might not be appropriate for them to hear.”

One woman removed three children from the meeting, saying, “Seriously? This is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard in my life. I’m going to have to leave as well.”

Calandrino said he spent an hour in the park counting the names of the veterans on the memorial and coming up with the number of 51 — one, he said, for each year he has been alive.

“There’s been talk about compromising and making our fallen heroes share the name of that park,” he said. “When those heroes out there lay dying in Europe or Korea or Vietnam, did anyone offer them a compromise? Of course not. They served with honor and valor. They served unselfishly, something all of us could learn from.”

Joseph Mayernik, owner of the Shamrock Irish Pub in downtown Utica and former chairman of the DDA, requested Noonan’s children to come back into the council chambers “because I won’t be speaking out of turn or in a derogatory way.” He said the move of the memorial was “good and appropriate” and spoke in favor of naming the park after Noonan.

Patricia Hallman, a Utica resident and president of the Utica Heritage Association, said Noonan is the longest-serving mayor of the city, from 1988 to 2016, as well as the first and only female mayor.

“I’m quite proud of that, and she’s a good friend,” Hallman said. “She’s a part of Utica’s history whether you like it or not.”

Hallman said she was in favor of finding a way to coexist that honors both Noonan, who she called a “role model” and credited with bringing the city into the 21st century, and the veterans.

Dionne made the motion to name the one side of the park Memorial Park instead of Veterans Memorial Park so that all fallen heroes could be honored, including police and fire personnel, and the other side of the park Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park.

City Council approved the motion in a 6-1 vote.

Councilman Frank Czapski cast the single nay vote. He said his vote had nothing to do with the veterans or the movement of the memorial, but rather he stood by the 5-1 vote with the previous council naming the park the Jacqueline K. Noonan Riverwalk Park.

“The original sign for Mayor Noonan was never put up. It was purchased, but there wasn’t a ceremony held to commemorate the former mayor,” Czapski said. “My question was, ‘Why do we have a City Council if the original vote doesn’t count?’”

Dionne said he will work on placing a decorative fence around the Memorial Park portion of the area, as well as a prominent entrance, pavers around the memorial and a bench in front of it for reflection.

“I am really pleased with with the turnout. I didn’t want (former) Mayor Noonan to lose any ground with her legacy, but I didn’t want to see our heroes that were lost in battle not be recognized,” Dionne said. “I think a lot of people expressed concern and interest. I think it’s a tangible, equitable solution to all parties.”

Noonan did not attend the Oct. 10 meeting.

For more information, call Utica City Hall at (586) 739-1600.