Protectors of nature honored

By: Linda Shepard | Rochester Post | Published June 1, 2016


OAKLAND TOWNSHIP —  For their efforts to protect the township’s natural areas, four dedicated residents were recently honored.

Combined, the service of Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Commissioners David Mackley, Colleen Barkham, Alice Tomboulian and Joe Peruzzi totals more than 100 years, said Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Director Mindy Milos-Dale.

“It is just unheard of that you find people that will commit time, energy and intellect to a long-term vision of the community like this,” Milos-Dale said.

The Michigan Recreation and Parks Association presented Community Service Awards to the commissioners April 20 in Lansing, honoring them for “their ongoing and tireless commitment to parks and recreation programs and services in their communities.”

Barkham, who has served on the commission for 28 years, said she was a single mom working full time in 1988 when she joined the commission.

“I decided I needed to give back to the community some way,” Barkham said. A fifth-generation resident of Oakland Township, Barkham said her father and grandfather participated in local government and inspired her.

“I was busy, and I’d tell my son — at that point, he was 5 — I had a meeting, and he would spend the night at Grandma’s,” Barkham said. “I remember a meeting that went to 1 a.m. We try to get them done by 10 p.m. now.”

Tomboulian first moved her family to Oakland Township in the 1970s.

“We are naturalists by nature,” she said. “We explored around the township and near our house. We realized we could save some of these areas for the future if we formed a parks commission. We caught Oakland Township when it was still on the edge of suburbia spreading north. We could see that if we didn’t take steps to protect the natural and rural areas, we would be swallowed up by suburban developments and sprawl.” 

Milos-Dale said the four commissioners “have been the key to all of the progress we have made. Without them, we wouldn’t have this wonderful system with wonderful natural areas for people to walk and bike through. They are the key to everything.”

The commissioners participated in Oakland Township park acquisition, planning and management resulting in a 1,100-acre system of more than 15 parks that encompass significant environmental areas, Milos-Dale said. 

“Developing a park is really fun and interesting,” Barkham said. “And I feel we have a park system now.”

All four commission members will retire from their seats this November. Barkham said she plans to remain involved through the Oakland Township Historical Society, where she currently serves as president.

“I want a little time to focus on family,” she said. “That doesn’t mean I won’t be back doing something. This is my home. I’m not going anywhere.”