Friends’ Stories

(l -r standing) Marcelle Weed, Anne Woodell, Jay Ver Lee, Kay Grozny, Charles Russell.                                                                                              (l-r sitting) Friends’ Chair, Susan Duncan, Mayor Lionel Wilson

Anne Woodell and the Founding of the Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation

Anne Woodell remembers falling in love with parks and the outdoors as a child growing up in Michigan. “In those days it was safe to stay outdoors all day long during the Summer time”, she says. “We always had access to a large park near our house. I was the only daughter, and had three brothers. We all played sports, including basketball. I always kept up with them!”

Anne grew up, married, and moved to Oakland where she and her husband, William, raised their two sons in the City’s Montclair district. She first became involved with Oakland’s parks, when in 1974, then-Mayor John Reading appointed her to the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission (PRAC). The Commission’s purpose was (and is) to report and makes recommendation to Oakland’s City Council on Office of Parks and Recreation policies. Anne went on to serve on PRAC for twenty-seven years, leading the group as its Chair for twenty of them.

Anne recalls, “At the time of my appointment to PRAC, I had two small sons and they both went to Tiny Tots at Montclair Park. I hadn’t seen a lot of other Oakland parks or California State Parks at that point in my life. There were seven members on the Commission at the time, and I was the only woman member. I was also the only one available to attend day-time park events—so I got familiar with many of them! As time went on, I got to know all of Oakland’s parks and recreation centers, Dimond, Mosswood, deFremery, Manzanita, Ira Jinkins, and so many others!”

The passage of Proposition 13 was a galvanizing event for Anne and other park and rec activists. Oakland’s Office of Parks and Recreation suffered a $10 million budget cut in the immediate aftermath of 13’s passage. In 1979, while attending a parks conference in Los Angeles, Anne learned about Friends groups from all across the country. She returned to Oakland and met with Hap Smith, the Director of Oakland’s Parks and Recreation department. Anne worked with Smith, and other long-time OPR directors like Marcelle Weed, Jay Ver Lee, Shirley Green; and other community members like Kay Grozny, Charles Russell, and Susan Duncan to recruit committed stakeholders to the Friends’ Board of Directors. The process took two years to complete, and in July 1981 Friends’ incorporation papers were signed in a ceremony with Mayor Lionel Wilson.

But despite her work on launching Friends, Anne herself, was not to join Friends’ Board until March of 2001. “I was on PRAC for all those years”, she remarked. “So despite, of my love for the organization, I couldn’t join the Friends Board and still serve as a Park Commissioner. However, I was an ex-officio non-voting board member.”

As the years went by Anne stayed involved with Friends; helping to launch the group’s Grants program, awarding funding to programs and rec centers for items that City funding would not cover; supporting the 1990 Measure K, a $60 million bond, which helped to pay for improvements to 175 facilities in the park system including a Friends project of $750,00 to restore the Woodminster Cascade in Joaquin Miller Park; and working to support Friends’ successful effort in the mid-1990s to allocate and project manage a $1.25 million anonymous donation to improve 16 playgrounds and ball fields in the City.

In March 2001, Anne left her position with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Commission, and finally joined the Board of Friends, some twenty years after helping to found the group. Over the following years, she served as Board Secretary; helped to start Friends’ annual A Taste of Spring fundraiser; and chaired many fundraising events, including the 20th Anniversary in September 2001 at the Woodminster Theater.  In 2006 Anne was honored with the first Friends Service Award.  She was 2000 Oakland Citizen of the Year, and 2009 Oakland Mother of the year for her volunteerism.

Today Anne still supports Friends, serving as a member of the Advisory Board, and providing occasional advice to the group’s current Executive Director, Ken Lupoff. Anne describes her role this way, “I have been Friends’ biggest cheer-leader throughout the years. I have written innumerable membership notes and letters; and urged the Board and staff to take a stand on issues affecting our Parks and Recreation facilities. There have been huge reductions in the level of support that Oakland allocates to its Parks and Recreation Centers. Friends has always been there supporting the Parks Department and fighting to protect its budget from draconian cuts. And just as Friends has always supported OPR, I have always supported Friends. I renew my membership with Friends every year without fail. I hope that every concerned citizen in Oakland renews or begins to support the Friends of Oakland Parks and Recreation this year.”

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