This year’s Party for the Parks honors three local individuals and one volunteer organization as park champions with special awards.

Park Volunteer of the Year: Debby Smith

Debby Smith has planted and tended gardens at Como for 14 years, starting with the East Gateway Garden, then adding the round garden at the Lexington walking bridge and the big one by the lake. “Every house I’ve lived in has had large gardens,” says Debby. “The key is to weed every day so they don’t get out of control. When we moved to Woodbury last year, I gave away two of the Como gardens to volunteers who have been helping with the annual planting and mulching, but I kept the lakeside garden.” Debby has cheerfully worked more than 823 hours in the park. She is one of more than 160 Garden Stewards who plant and care for 46 gardens across Saint Paul parks.

Park Booster of the Year: The Saint Paul Garden Club

The Saint Paul Garden Club is a vigorous and distinguished member of the Garden Club of America.  Over its history, the Club has been instrumental in developing other parks and public gardens, most notably Swede Hollow Park, the Minnesota Woman Suffrage Garden at the State Capitol and the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. With 100 members, the group has been volunteering in Rice Park since 1927, making it their longest ongoing project. At several points during the life of the park, the Club has undertaken special fundraising and improvement projects to enhance the park – most notably for the 2019 revitalization of the historic park. Club members partnered with the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy and the Rice Park Association to raise funds, helped design the garden beds, and of course planted, mulched, weeded, and watered. The club plants the large flower urns that line the park’s walkways with new themes for summer, fall and winter. Countless thousands of hours have been put in by hundreds of volunteers over the last 94 years in a unique partnership that has created beauty in one of Saint Paul’s first parks for all to enjoy.

Golden Shovel Award: Priscilla Brewster

Priscilla Brewster literally “dug in” as the first board chair of the Saint Paul Parks Conservancy when it was founded in 2008. Priscilla led the group to define its mission to enhance and expand park and recreation opportunities in the city. She contributed and to helped raised the $559,000 for the Conservancy’s first projects at Lilydale Park: a dramatic stone entrance sign and plaza to designate Lilydale as a regional park; a stone-lined creek along water street to catch water runoff and mitigate flooding; and opening up the shoreline by removing invasive vegetation and planting native species. Priscilla’s leadership and passion during the early years of the Conservancy made a measurable impact on the City of Saint Paul and laid the foundation for ongoing private support of park improvements across one of one of the country’s top urban park systems.

Changemaker: Khalique Rogers

Khalique Rogers became a passionate advocate for creating greenspace and a community gathering space for the Midway area during his years at Gordon Parks High School. Khalique testified before funders and government groups with a powerful narrative. Working with the Trust for Public Land, Saint Paul Parks and Recreation and the newly formed Friends of Midway Peace Park, he helped bring together resources and neighborhood advocates. The big day came on June 15 of this year with the official grand opening of Midway Peace Park at 416 Griggs Street between University Avenue and St. Anthony Avenue. The basketball courts were full, community booths filled the upper plaza, and both playgrounds were full of happy youth of all ages enjoying this new three-acre park. Midway Peace Park serves both as a destination along the Green Line, which has few parks along its route, and as an important local park for the neighborhood, Gordon Parks High School, High School for the Recording Arts, and residents of the adjacent Skyline Tower.