After writing a column about the two referenda on the upcoming November election ballot, I received a phone call from former East Ridge Mayor Mike Steele.
I was preparing to hear the pros and cons of liquor stores in our city, and what might result from dropping the residency requirement for lawyers interested in running for Municipal Judge in 2022. You can imagine my surprise when Steele wanted to set the record straight about the fishing pond at Camp Jordan Park that was at some point dedicated to Jack Dickert.
Steele said that his wife, Lynn, had read something on a Facebook string that was way off base about how the pond came into existence. This disturbed the woman. She wanted her husband to set the record straight.
Steele began by saying that he didn’t know who Jack Dickert was. I told him that Dickert was a big-time outdoorsman who lived around the corner from me on Truman Street. I remember Mr. Dickert keeping beagles that he used for hunting in his backyard in pens. I still remember those hounds baying. Dickert’s youngest son, David, was a buddy of mine and Tim Smith’s. His older son, Stan, was off to the University of Tennessee when I was a boy, and I didn’t get acquainted with him.
Steele said he was familiar with David, who passed away some time ago, and Stan Dickert but didn’t know their father.
Steele said that he was appointed the Parks and Recreation Commissioner for the city back in 1987. At that time Camp Jordan was pretty much just a couple of baseball and softball fields.
Steele said that there was a slab of concrete across from the ball fields. He got the idea of going to Dalton Roberts, then Hamilton County Executive, and asking for some money from the hotel/motel tax. Steele wanted to build an amphitheater.
The commission approved the request and the city issued a million dollar bond to finance the project. After the amphitheater was complete, Steele said there was money left over and he began thinking of what other improvements might be made in the park.
At the time, Steele said, indoor soccer was starting to take flight. “I asked if we could spend the balance of the money and build an arena,” he said.
Steele said he got to thinking what else the arena might be used for other than indoor soccer. He said the Shrine Circus came to mind.
“The Shriners said if the building was tall enough they could have their circus there,” Steele said.
So the design of the height of the building was adjusted to host, I imagine, the high-wire acts of the circus.
Steele said the city then acquired the right-of-way to build Camp Jordan Parkway allowing access to the park from the South. Prior to that, the only way in and out was from North off Frawley Road.
In the commission form of government, Steele explained, as Commissioner of Parks and Recreation the entire project was under his control. He had taken on an assignment in his career that required him to be in Atlanta much of the time. He desperately needed someone on-site.
“I called Fred Pruitt,” Steele said. “I asked him to be my man on the ground.”
Pruitt enthusiastically took on the assignment, Steele said.
In order for the arena to be above the flood level, the ground around it had to be raised. Earth-moving equipment got busy scooping up dirt adjacent to the construction site. Once the ground was elevated, construction moved forward. But there was now a big hole adjacent to the building.
“Fred called me one day and said, ‘Mike, I can build a pond where we took the dirt for the arena,” Steele said. “So the pond, was Fred’s idea.”
How the pond came to be named for Jack Dickert is another story. When I figure out the details I will share it with you, dear reader.