November 27, 2021

Mason works to repair history at Preble park

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Harry Coleman, a mason who lives in Homer, has been repairing the stone and brick fireplaces at Dwyer Memorial Park for two years. On Thursday, he was working on a brick one. He’s trying to get the ones most in need of repair done first.

Harry Coleman took a brush and swept across the bricks of the fireplace he was repairing at Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble.

“This one had to come down a bit,” he said Thursday morning, pointing to the bottom of the fireplace where he laid new, slightly lighter, bricks.

Coleman, a mason who lives in Homer, has been repairing, one by one, the stone and brick fireplaces that were built between the 1950s and 1970s throughout the park.

Many of the fireplaces — 21 of 29 — are damaged, some severely, with broken or cracked bricks or stones and flues. Much of the damage was caused by people having huge wood fires — which the fireplaces aren’t for, said Legislator Linda Jones (R-Homer).

“You really wouldn’t want to come here and cook on them,” Coleman said.

Jones and the Friends of Dwyer Park have been raising funds and pushing for improvements to the park over the years. She said saving the fireplaces is saving the history of the park.

Jones said they’ve gotten $3,340 in cash, Mike Park of Homer Iron Works donated four inserts at $510 a piece, Coleman donated at least $300 in materials and the Tennant family donated $1,500, which helped cover the costs of one of the fireplaces.

Make a donation

If you’d like to join the cause, send a check for the Friends of Dwyer Park to the First National Bank of Dryden, 12 S. Main St., Homer.

If you want the money to go toward a fireplace, note that on the check.

Jim Denkenberger, a former legislator, said his grandfather, Ludwig, actually built some of the fireplaces while he was a foreman for the county highway department in the mid-1900s.

“I never sat down with him and heard the whole story,” Denkenberger said. “He didn’t do all of them. I don’t even know that he did most of them.”

Denkenberger’s grandfather was from Austria and had a knack for being able to cut or break rocks and stones.

“We’re definitely going to pay for one (a fireplace),” Denkenberger said, noting the family wants a small plaque commemorating the family’s ties to the fireplaces.

Jones said when she started the project last year she had no idea what she was getting into.

“I was like, they are just loose stone, so just patch it,” she said, noting she then learned much more work needed to be done to get the fireplaces into good working order.

The cost for material for each fireplace is about $900 to $1,200, said Coleman, who is doing the work for free.

But Jones said Coleman, who has his own history with the park, was the right man for the job, even though she was surprised by his work during the first repair job. Jones said she had visited to see how things were going and found a pile of rocks and the fireplace largely in pieces. However, once it was all fixed it looked amazing, she said.

Coleman started repairing more of the fireplaces after doing one last year in honor of his nephew Jason Dempsey, who died two years ago from a car accident but loved the park. Coleman repaired four last summer and said he plans to do at least four fireplaces in the park this year. He tries to salvage as many pieces as possible.

And for the Tennant and Grainger family, he actually added rocks from the beach the family visits often in Massachusetts, said Diane Tennant.

She, her husband and her daughter’s family got to use the fireplace. The family wanted to repair one of the fireplaces near the creek where her husband Phil and his siblings used to play when they were children.

She said it’s such a joy seeing the fireplace back into good shape again.

“We’re very happy,” she said. “We’re especially happy that people will be able to make memories like we made.”

Although the new inserts help prevent large wood fires from taking place, Coleman said education is the key to making sure the fireplaces don’t get ruined again.

“Don’t burn anything other than charcoal or wood pellets in them,” Coleman said.