Ceremony officially marks renaming of North Ponds Park

24 Apr

Change can be hard. Especially when that change involves something you’ve known your whole life. For that reason, the announcement that the Town of Webster was planning to rename North Ponds Park was for some an unwelcome surprise, leading to the obvious question, “Why?”

I asked that myself when I first learned about the Town’s plans to rename North Ponds Park as the Charles E. Sexton Memorial Park. I’d never heard of Charles Sexton, had no idea how he was connected to Webster or why he was so important that the Town would choose to rename one of our most popular parks in his honor.

Then I started reading more about him and his accomplishments, and I began to understand the impact Charles Sexton had on a professional level. Then, at Friday’s official renaming ceremony, I got to know him on a personal level as well.

The event was held Friday afternoon under very sunny skies, on the cool and breezy shores of North Ponds. About 75 people attended, including friends, current and former Parks and Recreation staff members, government officials and many members of the Sexton family, some of whom had traveled from as far as California and Georgia.

It began with presentations to the family of a Town of Webster proclamation and a New York State Senate resolution, both recognizing Mr. Sexton’s history as Webster’s first Recreation Director, and the first African-American Recreation Director in New York State. His career spanned 34 years, from 1962 until 1996, during which he introduced the town’s first programs for senior citizens and launched the summer youth camps.

But those two resume bullets only scratched the surface of why Charles Sexton was deserving of this honor, and how he helped shape our community’s future.

Three more speakers followed, painting a heartfelt picture of the kind of man Sexton was, during his tenure as Recreation Director and retirement, before he passed in 2021. Sean Torriegano remembered his close friend, saying “No one had a more profoundly positive impact on my life,” adding that he was “one of the most selfless persons I have known.”

He continued,

Mr. Sexton wouldn’t have been comfortable with this, no matter how appropriate we all believe and know this is. It was not his thing. Accolades and recognitions were not what he was about. He would have rather had the names of the families that helped bring about and sustain his vision as a group, not as an individual but as one family.

Penny Soos recalled the two and a half-hour interview she had with Sexton for a receptionist job.

“He talked and he talked and he talked,” she remembered. “And I listened and I listened and I listened.” It was only later she found out the reason he talked so long was to see how well she listened. She got the job.

Retired Town Councilman Barry Deane helped everyone understand why North Ponds Park in particular was chosen to honor Charles Sexton.

There have been many folks over the years in this community who have had impacts, who have helped us become who we are, but I can’t think of anyone who’s had more of an impact than Charles….

(Charles) was a man of great vision. He started a new department from the ground up, and he made many improvements in the community. One of them was this park, which was part of his vision. 

When he started, this park was just a couple of (undeveloped) bodies of water. We inherited this park and over the years we did a lot to improve it. … This was really his baby.

Earlier in the day, at a memorial servce held at Holy Trinity Church, Sr. Barbara referred to Charles Sexton’s legacy as “branches and vines.” Sean Torriegano expanded on that analogy in his remarks. His comments touched me more deeply than any others that afternoon, especially when he shared his opinion about what Mr. Sexton might think about the day’s events.

He’d say,

Hang on to your thank yous, keep your well wishes, signs and ceremonies. If you want to say thank you, then you do right by yourself, do right by your family, do right by your friends. When you do wrong, and you will do wrong, you own it, you learn from it and move on. Thank me by giving before taking. Thank me by speaking up for someone who can’t and when no one else will. Thank me by doing your best to make sure our branches and vines stay strong and continue to grow, and to keep trying. 

Through all the proclamations and speeches, the same words kept cropping up. Beloved. Respect. Legacy. Vision. Charles Sexton was clearly a man who had a positive effect on more than just our town. He changed lives as well and seems to have made everything and everyone he touched a little bit better.

A lot of signs will need replacing, and it’s going to take a generation or more before the name “North Ponds Park” fades into memory. But now, at least, the memory of Charles E. Sexton — and what he did for our community — will endure forever.

* * *

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2 Responses to “Ceremony officially marks renaming of North Ponds Park”

  1. Bob Steinorth April 24, 2022 at 1:11 pm #

    We’ll covered Missy. You didn’t miss a thing. Charlie was one of a kind. He was a visionary and he was bright. What Webster Rec. has become today was because of the groundwork he laid and the tenacity he used to squeeze funding out of the Town Board and State programs. To know him was to love him. This sweet, soft spoken gentleman was exactly the tiger that was needed to move his Department forward, all of which was done to give the people of Webster what they wanted and needed.

    • websterontheweb April 24, 2022 at 2:27 pm #

      What beautiful words, Bob, You could have written this! I wish I had known the man.

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