By Meredith Blumthal, Commissioner, Urbana Park District and Megan Puzey, Trustee, Urbana Parks Foundation
When someone asks what we think of first when we think of Urbana Parks, we often think of the hours and miles spent walking Meadowbrook Park with our good friend Art Spomer. Luckily, no two days were the same on those paved paths. Some days we just walked and talked about our day, and other times he was scouting the best shot to capture a particular bird, or flower, or other interesting sight to add to his extensive photo collection. As Urbana residents, it made sense to meet him at Meadowbrook Park for these early evening or morning walks, and it was likely that he had already made a lap or two before our arrivals. As we walked, he would tell us about what he saw that day and laugh about his adventure in walking through the sticker bushes to snap that perfect picture.
Meadowbrook Park always gives us a sense of community. You are never alone there, and even on a cold, dreary day, you will run into a kindred spirit, out for exercise, or out to see what else or who else is there. With Art Spomer, it was usually both, and when he passed away in 2013, both Urbana and Meadowbrook Park lost a soulmate. Luckily, we can both pay homage to Art while at Meadowbrook when we pass the sign dedicated to Billie and Art Spomer on the southwest edge of the park. We can remember those laps around the park, through the sculpture garden, past the playground and along the prairie. Art was also an artist who specialized in stone carvings, specifically the Mobius, and he often knew the details and likely the artists behind each art installation and could give a short lesson.
Art was also a horticulture professor at the University of Illinois, which is how we both met him. He taught horticulture physiology, and was an avid photographer. You could count on Art to know what would be in season to photograph including the wildlife, which is what drew him out to Meadowbrook Park. When we walked with Art, we always had his full attention. He was the type of person who was present in the moment and had the ability to listen and tell great stories. The combination of walking with Art, having him listen to how your day went and the peace and beauty of walking through Meadowbrook, meant we often felt like we left a little lighter. The hard parts of the day just melted away after the “Art therapy” session was over. Art spent his summers in Ouray, Colorado, and as our walks got closer to his departure, his excitement about Colorado was evident. He would talk about what hikes he would take, and what wildflowers he would see as a volunteer docent at Yankee Boy Basin. Therefore, it is more than appropriate that the Meadowbrook Prairie is dedicated in his name.
We both still spend time in Meadowbrook, whether for a park district event or just for a walk. Our walks will never be the same without Art, and we still dearly miss him, but we have great memories of our friendship and all of the hours he spent with us, enjoying one of Urbana’s favorite parks.