A short story about Tenney Park and the Tenney-Lapham neighborhood, told by Ed Jepsen.
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Interviewer: This is Carol Griskavich we are here at the Tenney Park Century Celebration on May 19th 2019 and today we’re joined by—
Narrator: Ed Jepsen. J-E-P-S-E-N.
Interviewer: Fantastic. So, Ed, what is your connection to Tenney Park and the Tenney Park neighborhood?
Narrator: In 1976 I moved into 445 North Few Street with my family. My daughter was born several months after that. And we already had a son. And we used to love to come to the beach at Tenney Park to swim, and we would play at the various playgrounds. And basically we really had a great time. It was also one of the other things that was important to me, I was very involved with the neighborhood association. We worked to actually make the park greener than it is today by taking out some of the road ways, adding more trees and more shrubs, and getting back to the more natural landscape that the historic plan calls for. And also, I was part of a group called the Friends of the Yahara River Park Way. It was a 501(c)3 group that existed for about 15 years. And basically we worked with the park district. Um, city staff parks. County, state, working to get the under-passes built on the um, the Yahara Park Way. And getting the new shelter built. We were, we were a part of that group. So it was really a great effort and Tenney Park is really such a wonderful asset to the community and it was nice to be able to give something back to it over the years. So, that was all that I really wanted to say and it was just fabulous.
Interviewer: Well that’s fantastic, and do you still live in the neighborhood?
Narrator: Actually I moved to the near west side a number of years ago, but as I tell people, my head and heart is still around the isthmus. My body lives on the west side.
Interviewer: [LAUGHTER] Fantastic. Over the years, um, how do you see Tenney Park as having changed? Both the park and also the surrounding neighborhood.
Narrator: Well the neighborhood has gotten more upscale. It was more working class at the time and more students. Now it’s more owner-occupied. And if one goes down East Washington Avenue you can see the tremendous changes that have happened there. And again, having served on the council we saw that that was coming and part of the work that we did between Tenney Park and Yahara Park Way, it was, we knew there was going to be more development. And we thought that the parks, if they were developed properly, properly maintained and they were considered assets, that actually would enhance the value neighborhood as well as encourage the type of development we wanted to see.
Interviewer: Excellent. And would you like to uh introduce us to someone else?
Narrator: Yes. Well today I am at the celebration and I am representing O.C. Simonds. That’s Ossian Cole Simonds. He was one of the leading landscape architects of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was originally from the state of Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan uh where he was an Architecture and Engineering student. But he was influenced by landscape architects that came from Chicago, to tell them about it. And he took jobs in Chicago where he was one of the main architects, landscape architects. Uh, the Graceland Cemetery. And through John Olin who may have been interviewed here earlier today, I believe. He brought me to Madison and I was involved through the Madison Parks and Pleasure drive with the design of Tenney Park and um, Yahara Park Way and also with the, he was also involved with the Black Hawk Country Club in Shorewood. So he’s had a number of um, activities where he was working here in the city of Madison. So it was really great. Oh and one of the [PAUSE] I think I’m done with O.C.
Interviewer: Okay now we’re back to Mr. Ed Jepsen.
Narrator: To Mr. Ed Jepsen, yeah. Here was something I wanted to tell. One of the stories I think someone may have mentioned is, one of the really nice connections of having a river that runs through it is the neighbors would often, at the end of the school year, get together in canoes, kayaks, rafts, and we would all float down the river to take the kids to school for the very last day. And we’d take things – food- it was really sort of a gala even. Little flats and what-not. So, we really had a great time. So it was one of those [unintelligible] it was a close knit neighborhood. It’s got a great neighborhood association. And we’ve really done a lot to make it a great place to live.
Interviewer: Absolutely. Mr. Jepsen, if I may ask about the pin- the [unintelligible] that it says “the Hill family since 1910” on it. May I ask you about the Hill family or the young women who is portrayed on this pin?
Narrator: Yes, this is a young African-American woman and she is reputed to be the first African-American woman to graduate from UW-Madison. Their family owned – not a restaurant – but a grocery store at the corner of, I believe it was Brearly and Dayton Street for almost fifty years.
Narrator: Or sixty years, and now they’re in the process of trying to renovate it. It has an attached home and a grocery store with an apartment above. So anyways this was one—this was one of the early, earliest African-American stories in the city of Madison. So I bought the pin. Just to support the non-profit that they’re—
Interviewer: That’s fantastic.
Narrator: --and the restoration work that they’re doing.
Interviewer: That’s fantastic.
Interviewer: And um, do you know what they’re [planning] with the restoration?
Interviewer: This is new to me.
Narrator: Yeah, well my understanding is that they want to restore the store in an historic fashion. And then they’re obviously not going to make it a grocery store. They were thinking like maybe a coffee house or a place where people come in and maybe have a drink, something, I’m not quite sure. I’m not sure if you interviewed them. But that would be an interesting thing to do.
Interviewer: Yeah, it would.
Interviewer: We’ll see if we can get them—
Narrator: Corral ‘em.
Interviewer: We’ll see.
Narrator: But yeah, but it was really fascinating and one of the things I remember, I used to worked for the Department of Natural Resources, so I used to walk from my house by Tenney Park to the downtown office. And I used to walk by the grocery store. And it was never open when I was—when I went by it. But it was just interesting to see this relic of the 1910s and [1920s] in the neighborhood with Hills grocery on it. So it was really cool.
Interviewer: That’s fantastic.
Interviewer: And I did not know that it was an African-American family until actually many years later, there was a plaque and it describes it today.
Interviewer: Well, is there anything else you would like to add, either as Mr. Jepsen or as Mr. Simons?
Narrator: [LAUGHS] Well there’s a million stories in [intelligible] but actually I have to run—
Narrator – as my role as O.C. Simons for the unveiling of the post cards.
Narrator: Thank you very much for this.
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