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WAUSEON - Wauseon's Field of Dreams has become reality, thanks largely to a local philanthropist and, indirectly, to the oil industry's record profits in recent years.
During a ceremony last week, the Wauseon Rotary Club dedicated the new Dorothy Biddle Park, with its expanse of ballfields, soccer pitches, basketball courts, and sand-volleyball pits, to the city for use in its public recreation programs.
About 52 of the 78 acres being developed for the $3 million park were handed over to the city's stewardship during the ceremony.
"It's amazing, especially the way the economy is right now," Mayor Jerry Dehnbostel said. "There's no way the city would be able to do a project like this right now without the Rotary."
Brett Kahrs, the Rotary president who gave the deed to the mayor, demurred.
"It wasn't the Rotary Club that did it, it was the city of Wauseon," he said, citing more than $700,000 his organization raised from its community auctions over the past 10 years that sold off items donated to the organization. "It was just the Rotary Club that spearheaded the thing and coordinated it, plus some of our own elbow grease at work sessions building it."
Both acknowledged, though, that the project wouldn't have been possible without a $1.7 million bequest from Dorothy Biddle, the local philanthropist whose name the park bears.
Mrs. Biddle, who died in 2005 at age 106, donated a personal holding of ExxonMobil stock to the Rotary Club in 2003 for the specific purpose of contributing to the park. Her only condition was that she continue to receive the stock dividends until her death.
Valued at $1.25 million when donated in a charitable remainder trust, Mrs. Biddle's bequest increased to $1.7 million by the time the stock was sold two years later to finance the park project. The increase is thanks to a rise in oil stock prices that occurred in the interim as ExxonMobil and other oil companies set a succession of profit records.
"She really didn't know what it was worth until we checked," said Mayor Dehnbostel, a friend of the Biddles for decades. "She was just a very generous lady who also donated a lot to the fire department, the library, and the hospital."
Mrs. Biddle, who was an only child, inherited stocks from relatives and from her husband, Clark, a local livestock breeder and president of the board of the former People's Savings Bank in Delta. The couple had no children, nieces, or nephews, and was known for their modest lifestyle. Clark Biddle died in 1972.
Ken Thatcher, who with his wife, Becky, were longtime friends of the Biddles, said much of Mrs. Biddle's charity was devoted to children because she had been unable to bear her own.
"She just loved kids, she was always for kids, whether infant, child, or college-age," he said.
With the proceeds of the ExxonMobil stock, which she had held for decades and several corporate name changes, "She wanted something that would benefit all the children of Wauseon."
Mrs. Thatcher said she and her husband sponsored a basketball court at the park, "but that was nothing compared to what our dear Dorothy did."
Hundreds of children were among the throng that turned out for the dedication ceremony and party last week that concluded with a fireworks exhibit above the new park.
At its opening, Dorothy Biddle Park has three sand-volleyball pits, three basketball courts, six soccer pitches, four tee-ball fields, four Little League baseball fields, and a football field to be used by the city's youth football teams.
Eight more ballfields are part of the unfinished portion of the park, which remains under construction, Mayor Dehnbostel said.
The new park will become home to recreational programs that previously squeezed onto four older fields near Wauseon High School, the mayor said.