Smile Politely

Year of the Park, A to Z: Powell Park, Champaign

As Year of the Park continues, we will be documenting every park in Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, Champaign County Forest Preserves, along with other odds and ends between July 2020 and more like August or September 2021. You can see what has been covered thus far by clicking here. If you have suggestions or ideas or feedback, feel free to contact us at [email protected].


Powell Park 


3212 Clayton Rd., Champaign

a wooden sign honoring the Powell family

Photo by Maddie Rice. 


Back in 1988, when Powell Park was developed by the Champaign Park District, the world was very different, indeed. There was a hotly contested election on the horizon. Was it going to be Michael Dukakis, the wily Democrat pledging to reform Reagan’s white supremacist and ableist policies? Or George H.W. Bush, the steadfast Republican airman who had just served as Vice President for the past two terms? Hair metal was literally charting on the radio. Men of all types were using Aquanet in their hair and playing arcade games to impress women. Communism was still a big thing in Europe. And right here in Champaign-Urbana, people were using the internet, long before it was possible for the average person to do such a thing. 

It was a weird time, the late 80s. So, the fact that this park is anything but weird is a nice reminder for me that despite the time period, sometimes, simple and basic is all you need. 

picnic tables under a shelter in a park

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

This park features the most simple and basic of park features you can draw up. A playground for kids. A water fountain. A small shelter with picnic tables. A basketball court. Half of a walking path that leads to nowhere. Grass. Trees. That’s it. 

a childrens playground

Photo by Maddie Rice. 

This isn’t a park you or I would likely visit, as there isn’t anything here that you can’t find elsewhere, but it is a good example of how a park space can benefit a neighborhood when it is well placed and maintained. If there were a color to describe this type of park, it would be beige. If there were a ranking system for parks like Pitchfork does, it would be 6.8/10. If there were a man’s name we would give to a park like this, it would be Chad, or Brad, or Todd. 

That’s this type of park. 


Look at that sign above. No, above above. It says Honoring Morgan C. Powell. And now look here below. This is a plaque in the park: 

Photo by Maddie Rice. 
Someone in the Powell family lost a loved one, Tommy, and put this plaque in place to remember him. 
Who are the Powells? Certainly, they are being honored here in this park, and that’s a really nice thing, of course. But why is it that there is literally no information on this anywhere at all by now? Google search Morgan C. Powell Champaign Urbana and you get info about a dentist that may or may not still be alive and living in Monticello. Google search Morgan Powell Champaign Urbana, and you get some info about a professor at UIUC who had an illustrious career in music composition. Google search Tommy Powell Champaign Urbana and you can see after a little scrolling that this Tommy Powell did indeed pass away too young in 2004 at just age 29 it seems. 
I suppose it is not that big of a deal, but for me, our humanity is shaped by knowing history, and the people that did things and made things and loved people and knew people. Who are the Powells? They have a park named after them, and so it would stand to reason that there’d be information about that on the Champaign Park District website in some capacity.
I think it is worth the time and effort for organizations to detail who did what, and why this or that came to pass. If there is someone who is the founder of an organization, or who is being honored in some way through namesake, we should take the opportunity to bring forth information to those who find themselves curious about it all. 
That’s just my feelings on that, today. 
Top image by Maddie Rice. 

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