7th anniversary of Schilling Park remembered. Schilling family personified the volunteerism that shapes and sustains Altamont

— Photo by Ron Ginsburg

Before: In 2010, Shilling Park was “a blank slate,” says Jim Gaughan.

— Photo by Ron Ginsburg

After: Volunteer efforts in the park have transformed it into a multi-use green space. “It showcases what a few volunteers can do to truly make a difference in the quality of life for community residents,” says Jim Gaughan.

To the Editor:

At the May 2010 Altamont Village Board meeting, municipal park property on Maple Avenue was officially named Schilling Park, in honor of the Schilling family and its contributions to the village.

On July 22 of that same year, a dedication ceremony took place in the park. The photo from that time shows how the park looked then, a blank slate transformed to what it is now — a beautiful park, with extensive flower gardens, a tot playground, a shelter, a labyrinth fashioned with stones collected from the Bozenkill Creek that transverses the village, and a bluestone sidewalk repurposed from old village sidewalk stones dating to the late 1800s.  

The Schilling family first arrived in Altamont in the early 1950s.  From 1953 to 1982, John and Phyllis lived at 152 Maple Ave. and raised their four children: John, Carl, Lisa, and Stephanie. John shared a law practice in Albany with his father, and Phyllis became involved with community activities, her church, and the Parent-Teacher Association.

Together, they supported the village’s acquisition of the vacant home and property at 149 Maple Ave. (the former Deitz home), which saved the property from development. A tennis court was built in 1967, and Phyllis and others organized the neighborhood into tennis leagues and encouraged the support of the new tennis court.

Phyllis served as village trustee from 1983 to 1998, and joined the Albany County Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Master Gardener program in 1986, applying her knowledge as a municipal official to developing the village’s green spaces.

The gazebo in Orsini Park was replaced in 1978 and, as part of the village’s centennial celebration, Phyllis organized volunteers to plant and landscape the park. Through the Master Gardener program, she organized “Twilight Garden Tours” of the gardens of Altamont in 1990 and in 1997.

She headed the effort to design and plant the entrance to the Benjamin M. Crupe Bozenkill Park and collaborated with the state’s Department of Transportation to select the tree and replacement plantings after the road reconstruction.

In May 2003, she supported community efforts to have the space at 149 Maple Ave. declared “forever green” by the village board. And in March, 2004, the tennis court was removed and, based on input from a November 2004 public meeting, Phyllis developed the plan for planting the entrance garden and installing an iron arch to define the "Maple Avenue" park space, which you can see in the photo from that time.

Phyllis supported the request of a local day-care center to provide space for a “tot lot” playground and figured prominently in organizing a quilt raffle that raised seed money to develop the playground.

As development of the park progressed, Phyllis’s son Carl made a proposal to the village to construct a shelter in the new park that would replicate the waiting area at Altamont’s train station, and donated his labor for the construction. He, along with village volunteers, constructed the shelter pavilion that now dominates the park space and installed several benches within the pavilion that summer.

Gardens and trees were planted over the years by volunteer gardener Keith Lee, culminating in a wonderful green space for enjoyment by village residents and their children, as depicted in the more recent photo. The village community took on the challenge of guiding the development of the park by finding the creative ways to reuse materials and garner donations of plant materials and mulch.

Since 2005, the volunteer effort in the park has transformed it into a multi-use green space that gets a lot of use. It showcases what a few volunteers can do to truly make a difference in the quality of life for community residents.

Over the past 120 years, the property at 149 Maple Ave. has seen many changes; it began as the site of a root-beer brewing business owned by one of Altamont’s more prominent businessmen Alanson F. Dietz, which is memorialized in  the Museum in the Streets sign recently installed there. It became a tennis court, and finally a park and tot playground.

Designating this treasured community space as “Schilling Park” was a fitting tribute to the Schilling family’s many years of public service to Altamont and reminds us of the countless others that have followed in their footsteps to volunteer to make Altamont what it is today, and who exemplify the best of Altamont’s community spirit.

For its entire existence, Altamont has been defined by and has enhanced a strong sense of volunteerism in its citizens. For over 50 years, the Schilling family personified that sense of volunteerism. Phyllis passed away in 2012, but current villagers have continued the tradition of volunteerism that she exemplified so well.

Schilling is just one of the many parks and gardens maintained by village gardeners and volunteers. The others are:

— Crupe Bozenkill Park, the village’s main park, with a handsome entrance, leading to tennis courts, a swimming pool, a baseball diamond, hiking trails, and picnic areas;

— Angel Park, dedicated to the memory of loved ones lost, offering a wonderful respite to sit and contemplate;

— A demonstration grass garden and the site of a memorial to the late Trustee Christine Marshall, located at the end of Maple Avenue Extension; and

— Finally, Orsini Park, named for Millard Orsini, an Altamont native and World War II veteran, situated in the main part of the village. Serving as the site of many events including Altamont Free Library concerts and Altamont Fire Department movies, adjacent to the library’s summer farmers’ market.

Small gardens throughout the village dazzle the eye of motorists and passengers when driving by. It is obvious that the citizens of Altamont value green space.

All the village parks are in glorious bloom and well worth a visit or to take the children to play. Among them, Schilling Park is a hidden jewel, a local destination to view great gardens, entertain the small fry, or to relax in an outdoor oasis of quiet inspiration. Take time out from your busy life and visit.

Jim Gaughan

Altamont

Editor’s note: Jim Gaughan was the mayor of Altamont from 2005 to 2017.

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