By Marion Vendituoli

The opening ceremony for the Fred Sang Memorial Park, held Sept 29 at the Sonoita Fairgrounds, was the culmination of eight years of hard work, planning, fundraising, searching for a site and construction by the Mountain Empire Rotary Club.

According to Susan Scot, who first conceived the idea of building a park, the Rotary Club opened a separate bank account in 2010 earmarked specifically for a recreation area. The Club started holding car washes and hosting fundraisers.

The Rotary Club has held six regional chili cooking competitions at Kief Joshua Vineyards in Elgin, raising over $15,000. The Club also held two casino night fundraisers. “It had a wide range of community support,” Leslie Kramer said. “The community at large embraced the project and came out to the fundraisers.”

In 2012 they received a grant for the park of $14,000 from Cenpatco and in 2013 the Club received $25,000 from the Sonoita Elgin Chamber of Commerce, money that the Chamber had gotten from the Pascua Yaqui tribe. The Chamber gave the grant money to the Rotary Club after a failed attempt to erect an electronic sign in Sonoita due to significant community opposition to the project.

Meanwhile, the Rotary Club was looking at possible locations for the park. “I had a vision of a five-acre park with a baseball fled, walking paths and exercise stations” Scot said, “a multigenerational place.” The cost of insurance, however, which would have run at least $10,000 per year, caused the Club to modify their plans.

They looked at sites throughout the area before negotiating with the Santa Cruz County Fair and Rodeo Assn. (SCCFRA) to build the park within the Sonoita Fairgrounds.

A joint committee of Jim Rowley, Jamie Smith and Amanda Zamudio, from the SCCFRA board, and Scot, Kramer and Sue Archibald, from Rotary, started meeting in early 2016.

The Fairgrounds provided the land, covers the liability insurance and provides inmates for maintenance of the park. The Rotary club is responsible for all the improvements.

Groundbreaking for the new park, which covers a little more than an acre of land behind the racetrack, took place in November 2016. Rotary member Fred Sang did all the grading and built the 250’ wall and rose bed along the east side of the track, donating all his time. Sang, who died in February 2018, was an active member of the Rotary Club, as well as president of the Patagonia School Board. The naming of the park after Sang “is so appropriate,” Scot said, “because he put so much into it.”

“Following Fred’s death, Jim [Rowley] was really the guy who got us to completion. He was the linchpin with the fairgrounds. He was willing to step in and pick things up. All kudos to Jim,” Kramer said.

The landscape design was done by Frank Wicks, of Sonoita. Wicks was also instrumental in establishing the park location and the site layout.

Improvements include two ramadas, horseshoe pits, corn hole games, two grills and picnic tables. There are tentative plans to plant more trees. “What I’d love is to plant nut and fruit trees,” Scot said. Other ideas include a half-court basketball area and children’s play structures. “We need to add these things to encourage the community to use the park,” she said.

In the original plan for the park, the Rotary had envisioned a decorative wrought iron fence along Hwy 83 to replace the existing chain link fence. This plan was derailed by ADOT, who could find no documentation of the property ownership and of the property line. The Fairgrounds contends that the fence was there prior to the highway designation, but ADOT claims that the fence is in their right of way. The existing fence is grandfathered in, but no new fencing, even if it were to be in the exact location, is allowed. Scot is exploring the possibility of planting ocotillos inside the fence as a way to showcase the park.

Sixty roses, chosen by Kramer and Ken Karrels, of Diamond JK Nursery, who provided the roses at cost, were planted in the new bed along the track, with hopes that they would be in bloom for the upcoming Sonoita Horse Races in May 2018. Unfortunately, the local herd of deer discovered them, but in 2019 the roses, under the care of Rotarian Roger Cogan, flourished, even winning a blue ribbon at the Santa Cruz County Fair.

Sang’s wife Irma and family were present for the unveiling of a plaque honoring Sang, designed by Sonoita artist Deborah Fellows. “We’re very thankful to the Mountain Empire Rotary Club for dedicating the park to my father,” Sang’s daughter Brenda Somoza said. “I think as an avid member of our community, he would have been proud to have the park named after him, and the family is equally proud of the man he was and how he lived his life.”