Our mother, Ellen Kort, used to tell those who struggled for words to settle their minds in a peaceful place and “just listen.” We had the good fortune as children to watch her put this into practice as she took pride in raising a family, helping others and addressing adversity in her life. She positively influenced the lives of so many across our community, state and country.
We grew up in Appleton and spent the majority of our lives here. We have always been proud of our community and proud to call Appleton home. We remember the day in 2016 when our family found out that the Appleton Common Council had set aside a small parcel of greenspace along Appleton’s historic riverfront to honor our mother. This place was to be named Ellen Kort Peace Park. It was a day that perfectly reflected a life well-lived by someone who selflessly gave so much to others.
To our mother, it did not matter if you were a kindergartner learning to write or an accomplished poet with multiple poems published in the New Yorker — she encouraged you, and put you at the center of her world. She was a “builder” of relationships among people of diverse backgrounds who appreciated the unique value and contributions of each individual.
This “building” philosophy is why we believe Oscar Boldt chose our mother to take the lead role on the written word portions of the book he commissioned, entitled “The Art of Labor,” honoring the men and women who built one of our areas most iconic facilities: the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.
Appleton and surrounding communities just participated in the Fox Cities Book Festival, another accomplishment of our mother. The festival ties together all communities in our area and welcomes all people free of charge, no matter their economic background, to celebrate the written word while at the same time building community.
The list of her accomplishments goes on and on as to what she did for all of us. It was therefore obvious to the leadership of the state of Wisconsin, and its literary community, that our mother would be named Wisconsin’s First Poet Laureate. In this position, she spread her gifts across the entire state of Wisconsin with grace and excellence with a special emphasis on Wisconsin’s children.
So when, after her passing, Ellen Kort Peace Park was announced to the citizens of Appleton, with the intent being to establish a lasting and peaceful tribute to her, our family looked forward to the day when the park would reach completion. The park was intended to allow greenspace access to a wonderful view of the Fox River, a river Ellen valued and wrote about many times.
It would be a quiet place to “just listen” as our mother so often said to so many as they struggled for words. It would be a place where a child, 30 or 50 years from now, could ask, “Who was Ellen Kort?” and then understand that big things are possible from ordinary people and that all people are important. It could be a place where her poems could be read, which included a special focus on our natural world and how extraordinary that world is.
We were very saddened to hear that the Common Council was considering locating a private business with its associated parking lot into the park dedicated to our mother’s legacy. You will find that the majority of citizens, and anyone who takes the time to understand who our mother was, strongly opposes relocating a private business that currently occupies the highest profile location in Appleton to Ellen Kort Peace Park. It is also our family’s UNIFIED position that moving a private business to a small Peace Park dedicated to honor our mother to continue her magic for future generations is a grave mistake.
As citizens of Appleton, we are beyond thankful that previous Common Councils, spanning 150 years, understood the value of our city’s greenspace and didn’t allow other private businesses to build on Pierce Park, Telulah Park, Erb Park, Alicia Park, Hoover Park, Peabody Park, etc., as these continue to be our community’s most treasured places.
They are places that can be shared by all and open to all without admission fees. They are places that do not become obsolete and are eternal. They are places that don’t close and lock their doors and don’t hold events that are exclusive to those who have the economic assets to attend while others do not. We pray that, at the end of the day, our current Common Council comes to the same conclusion.
We ask our current Common Council to make the right decision and keep Ellen Kort Peace Park a small greenspace park celebrating our mother’s life and legacy as it was initially intended without a private business, and its associated parking lot, sitting on public park space and degrading its original intent. Please!
This article originally appeared on Appleton Post-Crescent: Column: Honor our mother's life by keeping Ellen Kort Peace Park plan