By Barbara McCabe, retired Parks & Rec Director of Strategic Engagement. Edited by Amy Hopf.
It’s 8 a.m. on a Monday morning in April, and the park shed door swings open. The little yellow cart comes tumbling out to begin the daily rounds of a new park season. For seventeen seasons, Dolores Bowers was the person pushing that cart in Port Richmond’s Campbell Square. She was the Seasonal Maintenance Attendant (SMA) for the park from 2000 through 2017.
On September 13, 2018, Dolores passed away quietly, surrounded by the family that she adored. Philly lost a true park friend that day. I’ll miss visiting her at Campbell Square where she became a neighborhood fixture, and I will miss her spunk and her good heart.
“Aunt Dee” started working at a time when many of our city parks and squares were in declining condition. They were in need of basic maintenance services and some good old-fashioned “TLC” (tender loving care). The Park SMA Program started in 1999 as part of the [former] Recreation Department’s reinvestment in its parks and squares. Dolores joined in the second year of the program and became one of a few long-timers who came back year after year. Then recently retired from decades as a waitress, she said to me, “I’ll give it a try.”
Dolores brought that much-needed TLC to a pretty run-down Campbell Square. She was a natural who didn’t need much training or guidance—just the tools and supplies to get the job done. Slowly but surely, park conditions improved greatly and the neighborhood began to take notice. This encouraged the Friends Group’s efforts to attract neighbors back to the park for special events.
Dolores’s work was a key component to the overall success of the park’s rebirth. Among her tasks, Dolores:
- emptied all ten trash cans daily
- swept walkways
- raked leaves
- helped to tend the gardens
- watered new trees.
She wiped tables and chairs like they were in her own kitchen and kept an ongoing supply of dog treats for all the “good dogs” who came to visit. Graffiti had no chance with Dee. She also volunteered her time in the evenings to help during the special events, scooping water ice and other fun tasks. The list of Dee’s efforts goes on and on.
In 2018, declining health forced Dolores to retire, and she was not a happy camper. Not being able to take care of her park really affected her; I have come to realize that not only did she take care of the park, but the park also took care of her. It kept her going physically, socially, and spiritually. It meant that much to her.
I can’t think of a better way to honor and thank Dolores for her outstanding service than to participate in the upcoming Love Your Park Fall Service Day on Saturday, November 10. Her family will be there, including her two great-grandchildren who called her “Grammy Bird” because she always had parakeets at home. Along with the Friends of Campbell Square, we will sweep and rake leaves as she would have. We will plant a tree for her in the place she loved and decorate it with “little birds,” and we will tell Aunt Dee stories and laugh.
She would have loved it… because she loved her park.