Ramblings: Roanoke Names Parks Director; City Partners To Help Washington Park Cottage; Newspaper Union Inks Contract

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another.

What are Ramblings? Ramblings are a collection of short items that have caught our attention for one reason or another. We’re on the lookout for tidbits related to money in politics, data, business, civic engagement or interesting events. Think you know of something that could be a Rambling? Drop us a line at editor@roanokerambler.com and we may well write about it. Happy reading!

Cindy McFall has become Roanoke's new director of parks and recreation, after previously serving as parks manager. PHOTO COURTESY OF RVTV

Roanoke names parks director from within

Roanoke has promoted Cindy McFall to be the city’s next parks and recreation director.

McFall took the department’s top job Tuesday after serving for three years as parks manager, where she oversaw physical operations, such as mowing, tree trimming, landscaping, playground equipment and trail maintenance. McFall came to the department in 2005.

“I have a lot of investment here, and this is my community,” McFall, 64, said in an interview. “We have all these new improvements and renovations and investments in our parks, which have been long coming, so, it's really exciting to see those things happen when you've been here so long.”

McFall takes over after the abrupt resignation of Michael Clark who in his January resignation letter cited a workplace culture of “passive aggression and intentional slight” as influencing his departure. Ross Campbell, director of public works, had been serving as interim parks director.

The city said more than 50 candidates applied for the job.

“Cindy’s deep and comprehensive experience in parks and recreation, her can-do attitude, and her strong sense of teamwork made her clearly standout [sic] among the other candidates interviewed,” City Manager Bob Cowell said in a city press release.

It’s a busy time at the department, with several high-profile capital projects underway, including a new Washington Park pool, an expanded Eureka Park Recreation Center, an in-river kayak park and the relocation of the parks department headquarters to the former Richardson-Wayland Electrical Company building by the Memorial Bridge.

McFall also cited a new five-year master plan that will help guide the department’s offerings. She anticipated upcoming surveys and meetings to hear residents’ ideas.

“I love our community,” she said. “I love those engagements with them, and so I am always excited to hear their thoughts and how they view things.”

Prior to serving as parks manager, where she also oversaw urban forestry, McFall coordinated operations of community centers and swimming pools, athletic programs and special events.

McFall's annual salary will be $130,000, according to a city spokeswoman.

Steven Stewart, the son of the penultimate caretaker of Washington Park, with wife, Barbara Stewart, visited Roanoke Saturday to reminisce about growing up at the cottage. PHOTO BY HENRI GENDREAU FOR THE ROANOKE RAMBLER

Advocates seek funding for historic cottage

Roanoke City has partnered with community advocates hoping to restore a historic caretaker’s cottage in Washington Park.

The fate of the 1840s building has remained murky since city plans to build a new $3 million swimming pool nearby. While the pool’s footprint won’t encroach on the cottage as initially thought, city leaders say the cottage is at risk of collapse.

Alison Blanton, a leader of the Roanoke Valley Preservation Foundation, said the city signed off in early April on a grant application from the foundation and citizens group Friends of Washington Park to stabilize the dilapidated structure and develop a vision plan for the cottage.

Half of the $80,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources would come in matching city funds, Blanton said. Advocates should learn later this month if the pitch is successful.

City Manager Bob Cowell told City Council in a weekly update Friday that the city has started the process to list the cottage on the National Register of Historic Places, a requirement to receive the grant money.

Community members gathered at a press conference Saturday put on by Friends of Washington Park.

“Until I got to know Friends of Washington Park, I did not really understand the role that it played in the Black community, the caretakers house itself,” Blanton told a crowd, “but have certainly come to learn and appreciate the role that that caretaker played in both maintaining the park during some challenging times with a dump on the upper level and things like that, but also really mentoring the youth and becoming a gathering place.”

During Jim Crow segregation, Washington Park was the city’s “Black park,” when Dreamland, a Black-owned recreation center and pool, operated from 1936 until 1947.

Cathy Carter, a founder of Friends of Washington Park, recalled the history of the land, which at one time was owned by Mark Evans, one of the Roanoke Valley’s first white settlers.

“It got passed down from royalty to the first settlers, and then we had more royalty when we came on board,” Carter said to an “Amen!”

Steven Stewart, the son of the penultimate caretaker, Royal W. Stewart, said residents used to play ball games and 45 vinyl records around his house.

Stewart’s father worked as caretaker from 1957 until 1970. Stewart, 80, recalled growing up helping his father cut grass and clean up after people used the park for picnics. Families came from miles away for July 4 celebrations, at which his father sold snow cones for 10 cents.

Stewart left Roanoke after being drafted in the Vietnam War. His wife, Barbara, said that “Agent Orange was not kind to him,” and has led to health issues.

“It’s a great thing,” Stewart said of efforts to restore the house. “I spent eight or nine years in that house. …There’s a whole lot of … memories.”

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Roanoke Times union inks deal after picket

The Roanoke Times union has ratified a new contract with owner Lee Enterprises following a lunch-hour picket in March.

Journalists at the newspaper unanimously signed a two-year deal that institutes a pay scale and brings minimum salaries to $42,000.

“For the first time, we have a pay scale to provide fairer and more equitable salaries to reward people – not just for their hard work but also their years of experience and service to the community,” Michael Belcher, a chief union steward who works on the copy desk, said in a statement.

With the new pay scale, some employees will see as much as a 15-percent increase in wages, according to the union. Most members of the 21-person union will see a 3 percent increase. A Lee spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

Like newspapers nationwide, The Roanoke Times has faced significant cuts and attrition in recent years. Since the Timesland News Guild formed in 2020, the newsroom has shrunk 60 percent.

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