For one of the major donors to the first skateboard park in Perham, the objective was simple.
"You have to give the kids something to do so they stay out of trouble."
That was the comment from Harley Karvonen, who at 94 was the senior "skateboard dude" of the bunch when a group of more than 50 gathered May 8 for the ceremonial groundbreaking of the "Kowabunga Skate and Bike" park.
More than $50,000 was raised by a determined group of parents and young people. A fifth of the money was donated by Karvonen, who has been supportive of youth programs all his life. Baseball and basketball were among Karvonen's interests over the years, but he has also donated to money to reading and other programs in both Perham and his hometown of New York Mills.
"The gangsters come in because kids don't have anything to do," said Karvonen, who was a special guest at the groundbreaking ceremony. He was surrounded by appreciative youth--all of them young enough to be great-great grandkids.
As a seasonal resident in Texas, he observed as skateboard parks were built for youth.
While young skateboard enthusiasts sometimes get a bad rap as loafers and ne'r do wells with long hair, baggy pants and tattoos, Karvonen believes a skate park for kids to hang out is another way to provide recreation for youth-not unlike youth sports programs.
That's why he donated $10,000 to the Perham project. As far as Harley is concerned, skateboarding is another recreation that keeps kids active and involved--not unlike youth sports.
The Karvonen donation was a motivational factor, and kept the park promoters' "eyes on the prize."
"The donation from Harley was huge," said Perham high school student Brennan Wallace.
Meanwhile, "skateboard mom" Trish McClellan, who organized a myriad of fundraisers to raise the $50,000 for the concrete pad and the various apparatus and equipment.
"This wouldn't have happened without Trish," said Perham City Councilmember Anita Mycke.
McClellan served as master of ceremonies at the May 8 groundbreaking, which was attended by city and park board officials; representatives from civic organizations; contributors and many others.
Raising money for a skateboard park is a challenge, but the group persevered. It was October of 2007 when a group of 60 kids and parents hosted a rally to launch the fundraising campaign, said McClellan.
"For a while, we weren't sure it was going to happen. In fact, a lot of us moved on from skateboarding," said Brendan Lauer, a Perham High School junior, one of the "elder" youth who was involved from the beginning.
"I've been at it since day one," said Brennan Wallace. "I thought maybe we would see it in about 25 years...Maybe when I was an old man," he added with a laugh.
Finding a location for the park was in itself a substantial challenge. Because of the "juvenile delinquent" reputation; however exaggerated or outright false; many Perham residents simply said "not in my backyard" to the thought of a skateboard park.
But the final location, on city land across from the ball diamonds and next to the blacktop recreational trail, has turned out to be the perfect spot, said Kathy Lauer, one of the parents who worked hard on the campaign to build the park.
The park should be fully open by early June, and the group is considering an event for the Turtle Festival weekend in Perham, which is June 24--27.
Printed here is a partial list of those attending the groundbreaking.
Mayor, Tim Meehl
Merle Meece, Perham Park and Rec Board
Trevor Meece, Perham Park and Rec Board, youth representative
Whitey Schuett, Perham Park and Rec Board
Gary Senske and Earl and Penny Rydell, Perham Lions
Gary Simpson, Perham Lakes Lions
Don Hendrickx, Perham Lakes Lions
Dennis Happel, Rotary
Carol Wilkowsk, Womenade
Anita Mycke, city council