Trees planted for parks and recreation director

Published 10:24 am Tuesday, October 21, 2008

When Dennis Lee “Denny” Maschka died last June 22, it left a void in many lives.

Family and other relatives, friends, co-workers, even strangers mourned his loss.

After all, he was Austin’s “Mr. Parks,” the man who figuratively and literally grew the city’s parks system into 29 public places for all to enjoy.

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He made Austin a designated “Tree City USA” community with his public works and private passion for trees.

Last Saturday, another attempt was undertaken to fill the void created by the death of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department’s executive director with a tree-planting.

“I think it’s just wonderful they are planting these trees along Maschka Parkway,” said Linda Maschka. “It’s going to be a beautiful entrance to the Riverland softball and baseball complex.”

Spruce Up Austin, Inc. coordinated a tree planting project last Saturday, Oct. 11 at Riverland Community College.

Mike Ruzek, project leader, assembled SUA, Inc. volunteers, Austin High School varsity wrestlers and their coach, Bill Kinney, Mower County Sentence To Service teenagers and their supervisor, Bill Klingerman, Austin Park Board members and other community volunteers for the project.

The RCC sports complex is a jewel — baseball and softball fields, dugouts, bleachers and stadium seats, concession stands, public restrooms and all the amenities of a truly up-scale athletic complex.

“It’s really a great complex,” said Harlan Nelson, SUA, Inc. director. “I wonder how many people know we have such a nice place out here.

“When you stop and think this used to be just a big, empty field where the wind blew and the grass grew, it’s quite startling to see what we have here today,” Nelson said.

A group of local sports enthusiasts, led by Dan Ball, Bob Wilson, Gary Quednow and Maschka, engineered the project from the beginning.

First one field and then another and then two more until the project was completed.

With RCC’s permission, the west/main entrance to the complex was renamed “Maschka Parkway” after the PRF Department director’s death in June.

The man most solely responsible for the recreation center was duly honored posthumously.

When SUA, Inc. offered to be a part of the tree planting, the project came seamlessly together.

The city’s PRF department dug the holes for the trees and deposited the 19 $500 trees along the cemented walkway into the complex.

The volunteers assembled and Ruzek gave them instructions. Two hours after the project began, the trees were planted and mulched thanks to the hard work of the volunteers.

Linda Maschka and other family members joined in the tree planting in behalf of the memory of their loved one.

Trees and the city’s public places were a frequent topic of conversation in the Maschka home.

“We would come out there a lot at night,” Linda said of her late-husband’s interest in the Riverland project. “We would come out here at night with Dan Ball and Bob Wilson, who wee out here every night working on the park,” she said.

“I got to see the concession stand when they put the first nail in it and the last.”

The PRF director was a very public person. Active in civic organizations, including SUA, Inc. He was president of the community betterment organization when he died.

“I think the most he was ever concerned about the parks was when the June 1998 straight-line wind storm struck the city,” Linda said. “He was dazed at seeing all the trees that were blown down all around the down.”

“He was such a dedicated man to his job,” she said. “He loved his job.

A nephew, Jason Maschka, came to help plant the trees. So did Linda and Dennis’ daughter, Megan Crouch, and her husband, Nick, and Linda’s brother, Dave Becchetti, from Minneapolis.

“Denny was my favorite brother-in-law,” Becchetti said. “He was about the nicest fellow you would ever want to know.”

Whenever the family gathered in Austin, the man everyone called “Denny” engineered a tour of the city’s parks.

“He was real proud of the Austin parks system and always gave us a tour of the town,” he said.

The man is gone, but his trees remain.

Now, there are more Autumn blazes, Burr oaks, Sugar maples … 19 new trees planted in memory of the man who planted thousands for Austin to enjoy.