Once a place to be avoided, Miller Park in Malden has become an oasis for family fun. This became evident on June 3 when the second annual Bubbles & Books event brought hundreds of children and their families to the park to enjoy a puppet storyteller, giant bubbles and free (gently used) books. The event was hosted by Malden Kiwanis in collaboration with Malden Reads.
“It felt like Christmas in the spring!” said Erga Dormevil, a Malden resident and mother of four school-age children. She added, “A book is a priceless gift for people of all ages and this event provided families with a chance to enjoy quality time together in a beautiful park. The outpouring of support from our community in the form of book donations was both heartwarming and amazing.”
Robin Jorgensen, immediate past president of the Malden Kiwanis Club and a primary organizer of the event, said, “Our first year [last year] we had a great turnout. But I think our numbers nearly doubled in size this year!”
The number of book donations from the community also exceeded expectations. Several groups helped promote book donations throughout the year. A contest at the Beebe School brought an amazing 7000 books to the cause and over 1000 other books were donated throughout the community.
“We gave away over 5000 books that day,” said Jorgensen. “The rest are stowed away in my attic for next year.” Children and their families were encouraged to choose books with the help of Key Club members from Malden High School and Mystic Valley Charter School. Key Club is a national Kiwanis-sponsored youth group.
The mission of the Kiwanis Club is to “serve the children of the world.” The event proved a natural collaboration with Malden Reads: One City, One Book, whose mission is to encourage reading and build community.
The Kiwanis Club was the primary organizer of the event, with Malden Reads providing promotional assistance and other types of support. The event both years was funded in part by a grant from the Malden Cultural Council, a local agency, supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency. Numerous donors and sponsors from the community also helped support the event and its activities.
Miller Park proved to be the perfect spot for the family-friendly event. Located at the corner of Harvard St. and Sammett St. in Ward 7, the formerly downtrodden and disreputable park underwent a significant renovation in 2015 and now hosts a variety of playground equipment, picnic benches, a flower garden and a revived basketball court.
Ward 7 Councilor Neal Anderson was a beaming supporter on the day of the event. “This is exactly the type of thing we had in mind when neighbors and city officials came together to plan renovations to Miller Park – a friendly and inviting space where people of all ages could nourish both body and mind. The Kiwanis Club and Malden Reads should be commended for showcasing one of the city’s forgotten gems.”
Jorgensen received an email following the event from Patricia (Borstel) Miller, which read, “I would like to thank you for utilizing Miller Park for the Bubbles and Books event. I hope to see it continue in the future. All my life I have been an avid reader. My late husband would have approved of this. He was all about the children. I am the widow of the late Robert D. Miller for whom the park is named,”
According to information on the city’s website, Robert D. Miller was born on September 3, 1936 and grew up in Medford. After graduating from Medford High School and then serving in the U.S. Air Force, he worked with underprivileged children and patients with cerebral palsy. In 1965, Miller was hired by the Malden YMCA and was instrumental in the success of many YMCA programs including the Newland Street “Extension House,” Malden Outreach, and Camp Madaca. On November 18, 1967, Miller was killed by a drunk driver, leaving behind his wife, Pat, and young son Bob. In 1970, Robert Miller’s legacy was celebrated with the dedication of Miller Park, where he left a lasting mark on the neighborhood. Formerly known as Harvard Street Park, the first set of renovations were undertaken in 1970 in Robert’s honor.
Over the decades, however, the park began to decline. Located in the city’s poorest area and suffering from a lack of attention and city funds, the park was gradually taken over by drug dealers and became a haven for illicit activities. Families no longer felt safe entering their own community park. Councilor Neal Anderson was instrumental in securing funds from the City and the Malden Redevelopment Authority in 2014 to restore the park, which was done with the input of the neighboring community.
On the bright, warm day of June 3, 2017, families of diverse backgrounds spilled out across the grounds, listened to stories, ate slush, chased bubbles and picked out free books to take home.
“This event,” said Jorgensen, with a gesturing sweep across the smiling groups of children and their parents, “is our gift to the city.”
See previous stories about the history and renovation of Miller Park in earlier posts of Neighborhood View by citizen journalist Elizabeth Scorsello: