It was an emotional event for most who attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Manuel Perez Memorial to honor Congressional Medal of Honor recipients.
The new memorial facility will be on the east end of the 27-acre Manuel Perez Park, on the south bank of the Oklahoma River and east of S. Robinson Avenue.
Improvements to the park will cost $2.1 million. Design schemes for all improvements are below at the end.
See our previous coverage from 2016:
Emotion and hope
“I’m beyond words,” Mary Sosa said, her voice slightly trembling. “We have waited very long.”
She is one of many southside community leaders who originally worked with then Ward 4 Councilman Pete White and Parks and Recreation Director Doug Kupper on the project.
“It is good to actually have something that’s not only for the Latino community but for veterans as well,” said Arturo Delgado who grew up in the Stockyards area and in the Little Flower Catholic Church mere blocks away. “As our city grows, I think this will be one of the main hubs in the near future.”
Even Doug Kupper, Parks and Recreation Director for OKC, seemed touched by the event that symbolized so much history.
“It’s been a long time coming to this rededication and rebirth of the Manuel Perez Park here on the south side of the river,” Kupper said in his public remarks.
When we talked to him after the cermony it became apparent where his deeper feelings were about the park.
“I wouldn’t be here today if my parents had not both served in World War Two, with Mr. Perez. So, giving some back to the veterans to start with, and those that gave their ultimate sacrifice and received the Medal of Honor — that’s special.”
Mayor Holt said, “this part of town is special.” He referred to the development of the new Manuel Perez Park as being a part of “a new renaissance in the Capitol Hill area.
He said that he foresees a time when “an unbroken central business district that goes from Midtown, all the way Capitol Hill” will be in place.
“People will think differently about what our central business district is and what its boundaries are 20 years from now, and it’s going to be because of investments like this,” said Holt.
A cousin of Manuel Perez was smiling as he scooped up dirt along with other dignitaries. Cruz Cardenas told Free Press that he thinks the memorial will be “great.” He said there aren’t many relatives of Perez left in Oklahoma City, though.
Forrest Bennett represents the area in the Oklahoma Legislature.
“Hopefully, it brings more attention to this small neighborhood over here, because it’s sort of tucked away,” said Bennett. “But, it’s a great community with really good hard-working people.
Park Renovations begin
The 27-acre park at 1700 S. Robinson was renamed Manuel Perez Park by the City of Oklahoma City Council in October 2016. That section of land on the south bank of the Oklahoma River had been the east side of Wiley Post Park.
The park is named after Manuel Perez who was born and grew up in Oklahoma City before going into the U.S. Army in WWII. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in one battle for the Phillippines.
The east panhandle of the park will be where the Manuel Perez Memorial will be located centered on a circle drive that is already in place.
Next to it will be a pavilion and playground that will match the design of the memorial.
Pete White’s contribution
Several people at the event in conversations and publicly gave former Ward 4 City Council Member Pete White credit for organizing the effort that resulted in moving the name to the larger and more prominent parcel.
Doug Kupper told of the early meetings that White instigated for moving the park from the 1/8th of an acre site to the current 27-acre site.
And Donna Cervantes, who was then the director for Historic Capitol Hill, had the most praise for White.
“He really was the visionary behind this, working behind the scenes, connecting people and the residents,” Cervantes said.
Todd Stone is the current Ward 4 Councilman and praised White and other city leaders for their efforts over the years.
Kupper said that the segment of the park that has the memorial and the playground on the east panhandle should be completed in August 2020.
Improvements and new signage reflecting the new name should be in place by the spring of 2021, Kupper said.
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