We live in a world where there is just as much dishonesty and disrespect as there is happiness and pride. We try to let the good outweigh the bad, but sometimes, it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening around us.
Last week, I was alerted to an incident of vandalism at Marsden Park in Fennimore. The statue of William Marsden, the park’s namesake (1838-1916), had been ruined with blue paint. The face on this long-standing statue, located in the quiet of the park, was disgustingly covered in paint, and obscenities and symbols only added to the ridiculousness of this incident.
Marsden Park is known to many locals as a scenic facility tucked away within the city of Fennimore. It has lots of beautiful trees and flowers. There is plenty of playground equipment for children to enjoy and numerous picnic tables and shelter for families looking to enjoy a sunny summer Sunday. There is simply an abundance of space for whatever recreational activities people wish to do.
Over the years, many community events have taken place at Marsden Park as well. It has truly been an asset to the city.
For those of you who don’t know the story of William Marsden, the book, “Fennimore: Then and Now” dedicates three pages to the man and his bequest, as told by Ruben Mauer, who worked for 12 years in the shadow of the now vandalized statue as the caretaker of the park.
William came to America from England at the age of 6, in 1844, with his parents, Hannah and Henry Marsden. They drifted from Chicago to Racine, then to Waukesha, finally settling in Grant County. His father became a farmer and sheep rancher in the Town of Liberty. Years later, the farm was sold to the Marsden’s daughter and husband, and the rest of the family moved into the town of Fennimore, where William lived the rest of his life.
William was married in 1863 and had five children. He served five terms as a supervisor of the town, three terms as assessor. In the 1890s, he joined several other men and organized the first bank in the area. He served as vice-president of the bank until his death.
Through all of that time, his desire was that his children would become leaders in the community. But this was not to be.
His son William died in 1893 at the age of 19 of an unknown illness.
His son George and daughter Annie went to college to become teachers. They went to northwestern Iowa to teach in separate schools a few miles apart, but tragedy struck there too. A tornado swept through the area in May of 1895 and killed both of the Marsden children—Annie age 27 and George 29.
William’s son Francis was in college preparing for a life in banking and became a cashier at the new bank organized in the Fennimore area. But he became ill also, developing tuberculosis, for which there was no cure at the time. He died on the way to a sanitarium in Texas in 1902.
In 1909, as a frustrated man with all his hopes destroyed, William made a will. If his children had not been able to help the community, perhaps his money could.
In 1910, his wife died, leaving William alone with their son John, who died a few years later of a heart attack while working on the family farm.
Six years later, William himself died en route to a hospital in Missouri.
He left everything to the community. Everything he had planned for his family during his life had been met by tragedy, and he didn’t want that to happen to his estate after he had gone. All of William’s money was placed in trust funds, in the hands of trustees appointed by the county judge and who are under the supervision of the county court.
As William wished, a portion of his estate was used to purchase land and equipment for a playground, while another portion was put in a trust and the income is now used for maintenance of the park.
The Board of Trustees continue to oversee the property, which has been added to and changed over the years. The park continues to run on what little money remains in the trust and also on donations.
If Marsden were alive, we can only assume he would be very happy to see how far Marsden Park has come.
I can’t even imagine how nauseated he and his family would be to see the park’s property tainted, especially this statue that memorializes his legacy.
There have been incidents of vandalism at the park previously, which have also been unacceptable. Yet, in my seven years here, I haven’t seen such disregard for the park.
Certainly, it will be difficult to pinpoint the criminals who caused this destruction. My fingers are crossed that someone comes forward to report those who were involved in causing this.
I know that, as a community, Fennimore residents will band together and somehow fix this most recent problem. But in addition to removing the graffiti and trying to forget about the disgrace, I hope citizens of the community can also start keeping a better eye out for these despicable acts and the disrespectful human beings who commit such acts.
It is unfair that William Marsden, someone who cared so much about his community, can give back so willingly, and yet a few sordid others have the audacity to try to take away from that.