Laughter and playful noises of children can now be heard from the playground beside Central Presbyterian Church.
Sunday afternoon after the late morning session of church closed, members walked from the north end of the church to the finished park. They gathered for the reveal of the marker that detailed the significance of the newly-dedicated space.
After Matt Curry, the church's head preacher, shared some words, all eyes were on church member Bill Abbott. As he began to speak, the train horn whistled through downtown and the congregation squeezed in closer to hear him talk about his late wife, Ellie Abbott.
“I had been for some time thinking about some way leaving some sort of memorial for Ellie, but I was having trouble finding the right thing,” Bill said. “As soon as he (Curry) spoke to me about this, I knew it was the right thing. It was the sort of thing she would appreciate.”
The wife of Bill, Ellie Abbott, passed away in 2014 and left a significant reputation for her time spent with the little ones at the Presbyterian Children's Home and Services.
Curry approached Bill a year and a half ago about transforming the lot into a park, not only for the church but for the community.
“It became a reality because the Abbott family wanted to remember and honor Ellie,” Curry said to the congregation while wearing a stole printed with children’s faces. “It became a reality because the desire was to expand not just the grounds of the church but also the ministry to our city."
Curry expressed the park would serve as a sanctuary that will feed the mind, body, soul and spirit of families.
“We named it Fellowship Park," said church member Brent Rutan. "This is for the community."
An individual who was not affiliated with the church made a substantial donation toward the park project in 2018, which served as a fire starter. The pavilion was built with a small shed to store tables and chairs to relieve church members from hauling the furniture back and forth. Another large donor — this time a church member — contributed and helped fund the purchase of the playground equipment.
“She (the donor) loved the kids and did a lot of work with the kids at the church, especially from the children’s home,” Rutan said. “She passed away a few years ago and was a large funding source for this park.”
Church member Karl Goss and his father, Jim, were instrumental in the establishment of the park. Karl explained an Amish community built the playground equipment by hand in Pennsylvania before it was shipped.
The playground includes three swing sets, a wooden train, a large wooden ship, and a wooden two-story structure with a couple of picnic tables.
Karl's brother-in-law installed the metal fence surrounding the park and crafted the arched entryway that reads Fellowship Park. The church members will continue to work on the property with additional landscaping and incorporate some gardens.
Before Fellowship Park had its facelift, a neglected 1890s home stood on the property. The house was removed and has since been positioned on Marvin Street.
“Nobody was living here, and it was kind of being used for storage,” Rutan explained. “It had black mold in it and was falling apart. The person that we gave it to sawed it in half, trucked it down to his lot, put it back together and it was one of the most beautiful houses. The next year it was on the Gingerbread Trail.”
THE STORY OF THE ABBOTTS
“I don’t know anyone that wouldn’t say they loved Ellie. She was a great person. She was very loving and giving of herself,” Rutan expressed.
Rutan shared that Ellie's motto in life was the acronym F.R.O.G, which meant, “fully rely on God.” Ellie would give out pins with the slogan to children.
“She had a drawer full of them at home,” Bill said. “Anytime someone seemed to be having a problem or was in need, she’d give them to them.”
Ellie was born in Kansas and lived the majority of her young life in Tipton, Tennessee where her father served as the editor of the newspaper. Ellie worked for her father until she graduated from college and then became a social worker where she helped families in need. In 1984 she moved to Waxahachie and taught in Cedar Hill and Maypearl ISDs.
Bill and Ellie met in 1969 in Atlanta when he was finishing school and she worked as a secretary. They went on a blind date and wedded six months after they met.
Bill explained that the church, community and children were the three most important aspects of life to Ellie.
Both Ellie and Bill retired in the late 1980s and interacted with the kids from the Central Presbyterian Home as they attended church together.
“One time we had a young lady that we were mentoring spend some time in our home, gosh about four or five years mentoring with that one," Bill elaborated. "We were very involved for a while.”
The two fostered the girl so she could transition into adulthood after the age of 18.
Ellie served as an elementary school teacher for 17 years and was enthusiastic with young children. Bill said this stemmed from her personal childhood.
“She had bad lungs since she was three years old," Bill detailed. "She wasn’t able to get out and play and do a lot of the things kids would do. So she was happy to see other kids live a more normal life.”
Bill continued to stand next to the marker that detailed the love Ellie illuminated and reflected on the significance of the park.
“It will outlast all of us and hopefully serve a good purpose,” he said.
- - - - - -
Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450