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Published: 8/28/2003

105-year-old from Wauseon gives $1.25 million for park speeding Field of Dreams work

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

WAUSEON - On a large pad of paper, Jeff Robinson wrote a zero, then another in front of it, slowly revealing how much money 105-year-old Dorothy Biddle - the guest of honor - was giving to the city's park project.

The city law director and Wauseon Rotary member stopped at $254,000.

“Oh,” he said, returning to the board, “I forgot a number.”

A packed room at Rotary Park gasped when Mr. Robinson added the number one, announcing that Mrs. Biddle had donated more than a million dollars - $1,254,000 to be exact -to a project that was 14 years in the making.

“I really don't deserve all this,” said lifelong Wauseon resident Mrs. Biddle.

“I've been around the world, and I always tell people Wauseon is the best place in the world to live.”

What had been known as the city's Field of Dreams project - a planned park of baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and walking trails to be built from 73 acres of farmland on Linfoot Street, north of Glenwood Avenue - will now be known as the Dorothy B. Biddle Park.

Wiping tears, Mrs. Biddle thanked the crowd yesterday for their support and love during her 105 years as a Wauseon resident.

Her gift, she added, was just a way of giving back.

Mrs. Biddle, a slight woman full of spunk, is as well known in her community as the project to which she donated.

She was grand marshal of the Wauseon Homecoming parade in 2001 - at age 103 - and could be seen until just a few months ago driving her blue Cadillac with the license plate COB-4 around town.

It was just a few months ago that Mrs. Biddle realized just how much money she earned from stocks she had collected more than 50 years ago. Because she did not have any children and worried that any inheritance she left to others would be overtaxed by the government, it did not take her long to find a good use for her money.

“It's kind of unusual to see my name up there,” she said of the mockup pictures showing her name on a large park sign.

“This has always been my home. I'm never, never, never going to leave it,” she said.

Friends, family members, and civic leaders all gathered yesterday to learn of the generous gift and to thank the woman who made it a reality. U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) was among those who came to honor Mrs. Biddle, who was born at a house on Main Street in Wauseon on Feb. 22, 1898.

With her late husband, Clark, Mrs. Biddle has supported many local organizations, including 4-H Camp Palmer, south of Fayette in Fulton County. These actions, and others, have served as an inspiration to others, Miss Kaptur said.

“What Dorothy Biddle has contributed, personally and financially, is profound,” she added.

“It is that show of selfless generosity that builds real community, and we don't see enough of it.”

The Field of Dreams project was first discussed in Wauseon more than a decade ago by members of the local Rotary Club looking for something to undertake.

One look at the city's fields - or lack thereof - and the group knew what it wanted to accomplish.

Rotarian Larry Lammon reviewed the condition of the city's fields yesterday, citing examples of how many youngsters were playing sports compared to the limited number of fields available.

He pointed out that soccer teams play on fields made of clay and that those young people playing T-ball are not in fact playing on a ball field but instead are in the front yard of Wauseon High School.

“There's a real need,” he said. “When people say we don't need another park, I want everyone in this room to look them in the eye and say, `We're not building another park, we're replacing a park that has no room.'”

The city has been seeking grants and the Rotary Club has held annual auctions to help pay the approximately $3 million bill to build the park. Mayor Jerry Matheny said yesterday that Mrs. Biddle's donation will make the park a reality about five or six years ahead of schedule.

Paul Zumfelde waited until most members and guests left the shelter at Rotary Park yesterday before approaching the woman he has known since he was 5 years old.

Gently shaking Mrs. Biddle's delicate hand, Mr. Zumfelde, 59, summed up the sentiments that many residents of Wauseon have at one time thought.

“Thanks for all you've done for young people all your life,” he said.



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