A neighborhood park in Garner soon will be bearing the name of an iconic figure in the town’s history.
In response to a remarkable citizen-led initiative, and in accordance with the Town’s newly adopted facility naming policy, the Town Council at its Aug. 5 regular meeting voted unanimously to change the name of Rand Mill Park to Jackie Johns Community Park. Mr. Johns, a longtime Town Council member, passed away in January at the age of 81.
The park, managed by the Town of Garner’s Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department, is located at 508 Rand Mill Road in the neighborhood where Mr. Johns and his wife, Lily, lived with their two sons.
The Smith Drive Community Reunion Committee led the effort to get the park renamed in honor of Mr. Johns. Committee member Mechele Collins circulated a petition that received over 1,000 signatures of local residents who supported the park renaming.
“Councilman Jackie Johns was very influential in Garner and in our community in regard to our park. He actually had the opportunity to visit at our event [at the park] last year,” Collins said in her remarks to the Town Council. “It is also his community where he and his wife raised their two sons together.”
In the early 1980s, Mr. Johns was instrumental in persuading Town leaders to move the park from its location at the corner of Bagwell Street and Smith Drive to its current site, and to upgrade park amenities to include a ballfield, basketball court, playground equipment and picnic shelter. The shelter, which seats up to 20 people, is available on a first-come, first-served basis at no cost.
Just before the Council voted to rename the park, Mayor Ronnie Williams, a longtime friend and Council colleague of Mr. Johns, said, “I think it’s safe to say—and we have to believe—that Jackie is looking down tonight, and he’s pleased with what he sees.”
Mr. Johns served as an alderman and then Town Council member for a total of nearly 36 years over three separate tenures. He was the first, and to date still the only, African-American elected to municipal office in Garner’s history.