Pat Yankie remembered his late mentor, Dick Bennett, when he attended the funeral services at Oak Grove Cemetery in October 2015.
“I heard many tributes to Dick by his family, friends, church members, and from his Delaware City police colleagues,” the Delaware County sheriff’s chief deputy said to the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board last year. “… The kind words spoken that day took me back to when I was a fresh-faced graduate of the police academy just starting as a patrol officer for this city.
“Dick was the department’s firearms instructor and one of my training officers, and I quickly learned how much he cared about the Delaware community.”
With the family’s approval, Yankie requested at the April 19, 2016, meeting that Eastside Park would be renamed in honor of the former police officer, who lived across from the park on Kurrley Street. Bennett was part of the committee that spearheaded the formation of the 3 1/2-acre park, which was dedicated on April 1, 1983.
Yankie’s request launched the process for the city to establish a naming policy. Parks and Natural Resources Director Ted Miller said there was no formal process in place and parks were typically named for a trait or its location.
The board approved such a policy for parks and its facilities earlier this year. Delaware City Council voted 5-1 with the dissenting vote from Councilman George Hellinger, who believed the policy should be expanded to all properties citywide.
With the policy in place, family and supporters of Bennett are a step closer to having the park’s name changed, Yankie said.
Delaware County Sheriff Russell Martin said naming the park after him would be a great way to memorialize a police officer from the 1980s.
“Dick Bennett was community policing before it was community policing,” Martin said.
He remembered when the park was no more than an empty field with worn paths from all the baseball games played there. He also remembered taking his son to play T-ball after the park was formed.
“The only reason we’re playing in this park was because of Dick Bennett,” he said.
Yankie and Martin said Bennett would take police officers on historical tours of the Oak Grove Cemetery, show them the “backways of downtown” for security reasons and the east side neighborhood, including the park.
“He was Mr. Eastside as far as I’m concerned,” Yankie said.
Bennett lived most of his life in Delaware. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1960 to 1968. He worked as a police officer in Delaware for more than 20 years touching several lives along the way including Jean-Marc O’Connor, a 1984 Hayes High School graduate.
Bennett came to his house to resolve a situation between his father and older brother.
“Dick turned that into a positive,” O’Connor said.
Bennett and O’Connor worked together to improve the Eastside Park in 1984. O’Connor said it was Bennett’s special project to make the area useful for families and children.
“He encouraged me to focus on Eastside Park as I contemplated service projects to complete the requirements for Eagle Scout rank [in the Boy Scouts], and that’s what I did, in the spring and early summer of 1984,” he said.
His project helped clean the drainage ditch to allow a pipe to be installed in that area, O’Connor said. Bennett provided another scout a project to remove large rocks from dirt the city had provided to level the park’s surface.
“Our two projects brought the park to a level of usefulness — and saved the city countless thousands of dollars — sufficient for the city to put real development efforts into the space, and the rest is history,” O’Connor said.
“We only worked together for a year and half or so, but [Bennett] was one of the most influential type of mentors I had,” he added.
O’Connor said he’s not a fan of naming buildings and monuments after presidents and governors, but does support such action for ordinary citizens such as Bennett who are “really the backbone of America.”
“Even if the park cannot be named for officer Bennett at this time, there ought to be a plaque noting that the park really wouldn’t exist at all without him,” he said.
After his police career, Bennett worked as head of Delaware County Veterans Services before retiring in 2012 to take care of his wife, Carol, until she lost her battle with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013.
Bennett died on Oct. 1, 2015, in Toledo, where his sons Shawn and Erin live. Bennett’s other son, Kris, lives in Cleveland.
Shawn and Erin said they plan to attend future city meetings where the name change is up for consideration.
“I’m glad they took the time to create a policy,” Erin said. “I hope they approve the naming itself.”
“Dad would definitely be honored,” Shawn said.
Brandon Klein can be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.