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Story Archives: Kiroli Park: A jewel worth fighting for
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|Kiroli Park: A jewel worth fighting for|
Standing beneath towering trees Tuesday, Dorothy Norris marveled at the beauty of Kiroli Park.
It's been a few years since she and her husband, Kramer, last visited the park, but she fell in love with it all over again.
Many in West Monroe know that if it wasn't for Norris, there never would be a Kiroli Park.
Kramer Norris says his wife is stopped all the time and thanked for her efforts to make the park the public place of enjoyment it is today.
In the late 1970s, Norris led the effort to save Kiroli Park after she saw a small classified advertisement in The Wall Street Journal for the sale of the park property. She was joined by others in her quest to have the Ouachita Parish Police Jury purchase the property and turn it into a public park.
That endeavor, though, was not easy. Some local officials and members of the community were not in favor of the plan.
Norris attended numerous public meetings with her three children in tow. She talked to anyone and everyone who would listen.
The park had been a camp for the Boy Scouts since the 1920s. Many still refer to it as Camp Kiroli.
The Norris family often attended Boy Scout events there with their children. Up until it became a public park, Camp Kiroli was only open to Boy Scouts and their families.
It was at these events that Norris fell in love with Kiroli.
When Norris saw the advertisement for the sale of the property, she called several people and inquired if this property was Camp Kiroli. When she found out this property was indeed Camp Kiroli, the potential sale haunted her thoughts for days.
"I said, 'Well, if we don't try something, they will sell it, and we will never see anything out of it,'" Dorothy Norris said. "That was the very beginning of it."
Many told her it was a good idea, but it could never be done.
"I made appointments with every civic club, the Rotarians, the Lions, the Kiwanis, all of them to talk to them about making a park out of this thing and not let it become a subdivision," Dorothy Norris said. "That's what they wanted — a subdivision."
Kiroli actually got its name by combining the 'Ki' of Kiwanis, the 'Ro' of Rotarians, and the 'Li' of the Lions, Norris said.
"Anytime I had someone to talk to about Kiroli Park, I took the chance to do it," she said. "I went with my little kids to several meetings, but I soon realized I was going to need more help."
She got that help from many friends, family and other members in the community who also realized Camp Kiroli was worth fighting for. She also needed permission from the police jury to pursue the endeavor because the property was owned by the Boy Scouts of America, a private entity.
"It was being sold by a private entity so you couldn't just turn it over to them," Dorothy Norris explained. "So, I had to go through the police jury because they had to back it. But, that was not the hard thing. I also had to get it backed by the state and federal government because we had to have all of those resources to buy it.
"Edwin Edwards told me, 'Dorothy, don't worry about it. If you get support locally, I will make sure the state supports it.' Then the federal government will match whatever funds the state had to do it."
Dorothy Norris secured support from civic clubs in the area to back the effort, and eventually the police jury approved it.
On the day that bids for the property were opened, Norris was told the Boy Scouts of America did not receive any bids.
"That was a real relief for all of us," she said. "We didn't bid on it … we just told them we would like them to hold it for us so we could see if we could get the money. Had they gotten some bids, it would have been a whole new ballgame."
The proposal to buy the park by the police jury was eventually placed on the ballot for the people to decide.
On the morning after the election, Norris feared they had lost. It passed with 53 percent of the vote.
Once it was organized, many people throughout the community donated money to help pay for expenses at the park.
"You would not believe how many people made muffins, cakes and things and sold them on the street corners," she said.
Norris is pleased with how the park today has become something special for so many people in the community.
Two boys and their mother and father were out fishing at Kiroli Park Tuesday as the Norrises walked through it.
Dorothy Norris excitedly asked them how many fish they had caught. After a few minutes of conversation, she asked if they knew about the dog that was buried not far from their fishing spot. The dog, Buddie, once saved a Boy Scout who was drowning in the lake. When Buddie saw the young lad struggling in the water, he jumped into the lake and dragged the boy to safety.
His life and actions are still honored today as freshly placed flowers have been put beside his grave marker.
The father smiled at Dorothy Norris and said his boys definitely knew about Buddie.
This was not their first time at Kiroli Park.