With Velda Minton’s 100th birthday just passed, it’s the perfect moment to look back at her 100 years of love for Audubon Park.
In the fall of 1938,16-year-old Velda Bradburn’s life turned upside down at a church picnic when she spotted lanky, blue eyed Edward Minton across a crowded shelter house in the newly opened Audubon Park. A year later, just a few weeks after she graduated from Barret High School, Edward and Velda were married. That was the start of our family, and our love affair with Audubon Park.
To our family, it was “the park,” never mistaken for Atkinson Park. Many Sundays after church, Mother would pack lunch in a wicker basket and grab an armful of old quilts. Our favorite picnic spot was a flat, tree-shaded expanse, now just behind the left shoulder of the Civilian Conservation Corps memorial statue. Every time Mother sees that buff young man leaning on his axe, she says, “That’s exactly what your Dad looked like.” He’d been one of those CCC boys, building bridges in eastern Kentucky.
Summers at the park were filled with picnics. Church events featured sandwiches on white bread, bowls of potato salad, tubs of ice to chill bottles of Coke and Dr. Pepper (or jars of Kool-Aid when we were on a tight budget). Fall brought a riot of yellow, red and orange leaves. In the winter we literally flew down hills on sleds, and in springtime we eagerly searched out the first wildflowers— jack-in-the-pulpit, sweet William, trillium, and too many violets to count. Audubon Park was where we gathered in a cabin with friends to celebrate my marriage. Later, when I visited from San Francisco, it was where the family reunited.
A couple of times each summer, Daddy would take time off work at WEHT, and we’d spend the entire day at the park. Mother fretted over the tuna fish sandwiches and potato salad in the hot car. Daddy sweated on the beach. I paddled around the shallow end of the lake. My brother, Tony, hung with his older friends near the paddle boats. Neither of us could swim, then.
While the adults napped, Tony and I would pretend to be Tarzan, swinging on grapevines. We didn’t hike often, but I remember one trek along the Kentucky Coffee Tree Trail. Daddy strode up and down the hills ahead of us, then circled back to give Mother his big, rough hand across the trickier patches.
Usually, we saved the museum for Sunday, because that’s when admission was free. I don’t think Mother especially liked the mastodon lurking at the base of the circular stairway in the tower, but she was thrilled when a life-size replica of Audubon in his studio was installed in the gallery. “He’s so real you think you could talk to him,” she often said.
The bird observation room became a regular stop on every visit. Mother would happily sit for hours watching and listening to the birds, excitedly telling total strangers about the glories of the park, and urging them explore.
When the trails became too challenging for Daddy’s emphysema, he walked loops of the short, mostly paved trail behind the museum with Mother alongside. Later, as Mother aged, she, too, delighted in the Museum Trail.
One particularly glorious fall morning when we were staying in the park, the naturalist asked if Mother would like to ride in a golf cart. We slowly rolled up the hill toward Wilderness Lake, then down the other side, and paused. If you look carefully where the road ends, you can see the foundations of a shelter house. It’s where Mother met Daddy.
Dianna Waggoner, the daughter of Velda Minton, was born and raised in Henderson. She graduated from Henderson City High, attended Henderson Community College, then earned a B.A. at Murray State, and a Juris Doctorate at New College in San Francisco. A week after graduation she moved to San Francisco where she worked as a journalist for People Magazine. She has published stories in Time, Newsweek, Life, NY Times. She now lives with her husband, Michael Alexander, in Vancouver, Canada.