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Parks Perspectives: Gerhardt Park gets new ‘lease on life’
Gerhardt Park is Sequim’s most recent park addition located slightly before the intersection of South Third Avenue and Reservoir Road. Although the park was accepted before the city council in 2006, it was just last year that the park came under city control.
Anton and Rosa Gerhardt gifted their property to the city upon their deaths in exchange for a domestic water connection. Anton, nicknamed “Toni,” died shortly after the agreement with the city and Rosa died just last year at age 100. Following Rosa’s death, ownership of the property, as agreed to in previous years, went to the City of Sequim to be turned into a park.
About 7.5 acres in size, Gerhardt Park “provides the opportunity to secure heritage, open space for gatherings and for groups like the Boy Scouts or 4-H perhaps and a place for leisure,” Joe Irvin, City of Sequim special projects manager, said.
Once upon a time …
The Gerhardts moved to Sequim from Chicago in the late 1960s, according to Lou Pinnell, a close family friend of the Gerhardts. The couple bought the land in 1973 and raised sheep and honeybees on the old homestead.
“It’s a gorgeous piece of property,” Sarah VanAusdle, City of Sequim public works analyst, said. “There’s even a beautiful old orchard.”
The park provides both open space as well as forested land and Bell Creek trickles through a deep ravine along the eastern boundary of the property.
Lou Pinnell’s parents were the original owners of the property and had bought it and some surrounding acreage in 1938 for about $300, Lou Pinnell recalled. The older of the two homes at Gerhardt Park is Pinnell’s childhood home. The kitchen is the original footprint of the house that was later added onto.
It was Lou Pinnell’s memories of the property that brought him and his wife, Donna Pinnell, and the Gerhardts together. Soon, the Gerhardts became like family to the Pinnells.
“We met the Gerhardts when my brother and I went to the property just to reminisce,” Lou Pinnell said. “It wasn’t long before Toni had me put to work on the place.”
That was more than 10 years ago.
Lou Pinnell helped the Gerhardts with their lawn maintenance and general upkeep and Donna Pinnell spent a lot of time with Rosa. The Pinnells became pivotal to the Gerhardts through the years.
Even after the Gerhardts’ deaths, Lou Pinnell still maintains Gerhardt Park, though he admitted he’s looking forward to passing the task along to city hands.
With no nearby relatives or children to give their property to, the Gerhardts said they wanted to leave it to the Pinnells, Lou Pinnell recalled, but he suggested giving it to the city to use as a park.
“When I made that suggestion, they (Gerhardts) really liked the idea,” he said.
Long before their move to Sequim, both Anton Gerhardt and Rosa Gotthardt had rich pasts that began overseas.
The couple met in Chicago while routinely riding the same bus route, each immigrated to America separately, Donna Pinnell said, as she looked at a box of old black and white photographs and the naturalization certificates for both Anton and Rosa.
“She (Rosa) was so proud of this,” Donna Pinnell said, holding up Rosa’s framed naturalization certificate. “She told me how hard she had to work and study for this because she didn’t speak any English when she immigrated.”
Rosa immigrated to America before Anton in 1935 from her home in Moschendorf, Austria, Donna Pinnell said. Anton wasn’t as fortunate — He became a German captive during World War II. He was the youngest among five children, and most of his siblings were killed along with his parents when their family farm was invaded.
Later on in the war, Anton worked as a cook serving the American army before making his way via ship to Chicago.
“Toni was a bit short tempered,” Donna Pinnell said. “And Rosa, well, she was patient and a very proper woman.”
After moving to Sequim on a business endeavor, and though that endeavor fell through, Anton and Rosa stayed. Anton went to work on cedar telephone poles and doing odd jobs, then soon retired. Two worked diligently on their property, tending to their sheep and honeybees.
“Toni used to go around collecting bee swarms,” Lou Pinnell said. “Toni didn’t mow his fields. Instead, he used a big scythe to cut the grass and feed it to the sheep.”
The Gerhardts maintained more than 100 sheep and 25 honeybee hives.
No park plan yet
The mature orchard, aging houses and a variety of outbuildings — including the long sheep barn — give hints to the past and the Gerhardts’ devotion to their land.
“We don’t know the ultimate purpose of the park yet,” VanAusdle said. “That will be part of the Park Master Plan.”
To assist with park improvements, $25,000 from the Real Estate Excise Tax Parks Restricted funds has been set aside. The first priority is getting irrigation water and potable water to the property, and in lieu fulfill the agreement of a domestic water connection. An existing well also is available for backup irrigation water, Irvin said.
For now, the houses and the buildings will remain within the park. The newer of the two houses is envisioned as a rental space for an onsite caretaker.
Despite no firm plan for the park, some of the public’s suggestions at a recent Park Master Plan visioning workshop included, “a place to host small farm activities, gardens aided by demonstrations, outdoor education programs and a historical site,” Irvin said.
The initial reaction to the park from the public seems to be an overriding theme to maintain and preserve the property and its history as much as possible, Irvin noted.
In addition to the park’s potential, Gerhardt Park is now one of two parks (including Joseph Keeler Memorial Park) to provide park access on the south side of U.S. Highway 101.
“The park will serve an important need for neighborhood parks south of the highway,” Irvin said.
Reach Alana Linderoth at email@example.com.