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Sky Lakes, community open downtown park

Monday, July 1, 2019

Hundreds of people from throughout the community joined Sky Lakes officials today (July 1) to officially open the Klamath Commons Park in the city block bounded by Main Street, Klamath Avenue, and 11th and 12th streets at the north end of downtown Klamath Falls.

The park, a gift to the community by Sky Lakes from its 50th anniversary celebration, is also a tribute to the memory of Stephanie VanDyke, MD, MPH -- a visionary who continues to inspire us today – who died as a result of injuries suffered in a 2017 sledding accident.

It was the board’s intention to invest in infrastructure initiatives that promoted physical activity, said Sky Lakes President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Stewart. Research indicates physical activity is associated with reducing 35 chronic conditions.

“Klamath Commons creates a beautiful entrance to our downtown and presents multiple opportunities to enjoy being more active, and as a community, we need to move more,” Stewart said.

'The Sky Lakes board, in addition to shepherding direct investments in healthcare, also has a felt obligation, as the region’s largest employer, to be a good civic citizen – to invest in and help create a vision of a welcoming, thriving community that entices appropriate economic development while simultaneously helping make it easier to be active and healthy," Stewart said.

“What a great investment in our future!” he said of the park.

“I must say, I am in awe of the outpouring of all of you being here in this beautiful park, said Heidi VanDyke, mother of the late Stephanie VanDyke. “It is such a small town, but such a strong community.”

Mr. Stewart’s remarks

Thanks to Suzanne, John, Katherine, Heidi

Jeff and Heidi – welcome! We are so glad to have you hear today

There is, of course, a story behind this park – I would like to tell that story:

Back in 2009 - 2012 we were fortunate to have Dr. Stephanie Van Dyke as a member of our resident medical team, completing her family medicine residency at Cascades East.

It was during this time that I came to know Stephanie – Stephanie approached me about the medical center providing some support for her work in Uganda, Africa. We had some great conversations, and I knew then that this was a person who was passionate about serving others, especially the disadvantaged

She wanted to help everyone and anyone she could obtain their maximum possible health status

It was clear she had entered medicine for all of the right reasons – hers was a desire to lift others up.

I’m not sure I’ve ever known someone so genuinely sincere and kind – she truly cared about others.

After graduation, we tried to get her to stay, but she had her heart set on graduate school for a master’s in public health. Fortunately, we did not lose contact with her, and even more fortunately, while in school, she met and became friends and associates with Katherine.

Around that time, we were attempting to transform how we positioned the healthcare system in this community – we knew we needed to do more to invest in what we call “upstream” investments in health – interventions and lifestyle adjustments that would not just help fix things when they broke, but would actually bend the curve on preventing disease and illness.

We weren’t exactly sure what our best next steps would be – we were engaging others in the community in conversations that evolved into the Healthy Klamath initiative. Public health was on board with us, as well as some other partners, but we needed more specific direction

It was then that we agreed to have Katherine and Stephanie come to town where they made a proposal to my senior management team with a vision to create what is now the Sky Lakes Wellness Center – one of the best business decisions I’ve made in the past few years was to agree to hire them to tackle that vision – a vision continued today by others in the same vein of helping people learn how to better manage their own health in order to live well and live long.

Prior to relocating to Klamath, Stephanie was residing in Bend. She would often make the drive down here to work on the logistics of finding and remodeling space, and other start up operating decisions. During the drive, one of Stephanie’s favorite songs that she would love listening to, and I’m told listened to dozens of times – is a song by Alan Silvestri – known as The Forest Gump Theme.

I’d like to invite Suzanne back to the piano to play this song for us in honor of Stephanie.

Stephanie and Katherine immediately became a large part of our community health outreach efforts, and have their fingerprints on many of the initiatives that we are pushing forward at this time, such as the protected bike lane and the Blue Zones Project.

One thing they both advocated for with a zeal and a passion was the out of doors – encouraging people to get up and move, walk, ride a bike, create green spaces, just sit and relax, but do so outside.

Some of you may remember this block as a sprawling garage-like structure flanked by a couple of largely vacant brick buildings. In 2011 the storage building burned down, leaving a large vacant lot

As Stephanie and Katherine looked out their window across the street at a bare vacant patch of dirt, it wasn’t long before they were putting forward the notion of creating a small pocket park – similar to Sugarman’s – to help beautify the area, create green space, and encourage people to walk, relax, enjoy their lunch etc.

Funding was a barrier – the City wasn’t in a position to convert that land, which they now owned, into a park.

Enter the Sky Lakes Medical Center Board of Directors. In brainstorming sessions surrounding the 50th anniversary of the establishment of what is now Sky Lakes Medical Center, the board landed upon a decision to gift some key community improvements to the community in honor of our 50th anniversary. The investments would be in initiatives that encouraged healthy lifestyle choices, mostly associated with physical activity, which is shown to decrease as many as 35 chronic conditions.

The pocket park made the short list of potential projects, along with the Kit Carson park, swim lessons for third-graders, and several other community infrastructure developments.

The Sky Lakes board, in addition to shepherding direct investments in healthcare, also has a felt obligation, as the region’s largest employer, to be a good civic citizen – to invest in and help create a vision of a welcoming, thriving community that entices appropriate economic development while simultaneously helping make it easier to be active and healthy.

This region, at the entrance to downtown was perceived as just a bit of an eyesore to visitors and potential businesses. As we evaluated the proposed pocket park, it became clear to the board that in spite of how nice the smaller park would be, it would not enhance the entrance to downtown as they would desire.

Long story short – soon the board had approved purchasing the Main & 11th corner lot, and then purchasing the two last remaining buildings on the block, then tearing them down since one of them was about to fall down anyway, and then purchasing the parking area – and the pocket park concept originated by Katherine and Stephanie found full scale in an entire city block converted to green space. While the scale of this undertaking increased the magnitude of the project and the required planning and funding to pull it off, the Board was undaunted in their commitment and proceeded to approve the full scale development of this park.

Now, after several years of planning, development, acquiring property, tearing down buildings, fund raising, and construction, we now express our appreciation to all those who helped make this park a reality –

  • the city for their willingness to lease to us the half of the block they owned and help with new sidewalks and maintenance;
  • to ZCS Engineering and Architecture for guiding the design development, and who has graciously donated their services, in honor of Stephanie, to help ensure we were able to pull this off
  • to Modoc Construction for their donation of much of the time and materials involved in constructing the park
  • to Winema Electric, Tru Line Surveying, and Cal Ore Communications who have also donated thousands of dollars’ worth of labor and services towards this park
  • To Alder Creek Landscaping who has worked closely with us on the Kit Carson Park and now this one, and has donated much of their work and materials as well
  • To hundreds of small donations that came in to honor Stephanie and ensure that her vision of this green space became a reality

And thanks to everyone here, who carved time from their precious day to help officially open this park, this tribute to the memory of a visionary, and a dreamer, who continues to inspire us today

This park, with its open green spaces and inviting shade, its benches, and opportunities for physical movement says a great deal about who we are as a community

Stephanie was one who truly cared – we feel this park conveys that same message - It says “we care”

We care about taking care of each other, we care about creating nice places for our families to enjoy, we care about our community, and about taking care of ourselves by moving more and by stressing less

Some time ago fire destroyed the larger structure on this block, and the brick buildings are now gone. This is not quite a phoenix rising from the ashes, but it is a vision growing in the fertile earth of a dream to become this reality

A reality of persistence; a reality of perseverance; a reality of hope for a tomorrow in Klamath Falls even better than today

And so on behalf of Sky Lakes Medical Center, Stephanie, Katherine and all those who made this park a reality, we now donate to our community our newest park – Klamath Commons.