Lankster fights to rename park

Published 11:30 pm Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Most of the Linden City Council seemed a little stunned when councilman Richard Lankster submitted a petition at the council meeting Tuesday to rename Austin Park to Shields Park.

Even before taking office last fall, Lankster has been trying to get the name of the park changed to honor his great grandfather, Dr. E.W. Shields, a teacher and preacher in Linden during the 1900s.

According to Lankster, Dr. Shields donated land to the city where the park and George P. Austin Jr. High School sits today.

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He presented the petition with 50 signatures from citizens wanting the name changed to Shields.

“The partition reads….fact: Dr. E.W. Shields gave to the City of Linden the land which is now George P. Austin Junior High School, the old Austin football field and Austin park in 1903,” said Shields as he read the petition to the council. “Due to the fact that the vast majority of the citizens of Linden is ignorant of this fact because nothing bears Dr. Shield’s name and no recognitions have been made, therefore we the concerned citizens of Linden hereby do participation the Linden city council to rename Austin Park to Shields Park in honor of Dr. E.W. Shields.”

Lankster indicated he wanted to show that the citizens would be in favor of the name change, especially after a conversation he had with councilman Neal Jackson. Lankster said Jackson told him that he was not sure people would be for changing the name, especially since it has been called Austin Park for many years.

“I have not had anybody really say they were not in favor of it,” said Lankster.

“I think it is something to be given a lot of thought,” Mayor Mitzi Gates told Lankster. “I think it was a wonderful act that your great grandfather gave this land to be used for a school, but what about the contributions made to the city by George P. Austin and his family? What about how they might feel (with changing the name)?”

“According to my knowledge, professor Austin had no family,” Lankster responded. “He was not from this particular area. To my knowledge the park has never been officially named at all. It assumed the name Austin Park because it was near Austin School.”

City attorney W.W. Dinning, Jr, who had been asked at a previous city council meeting to look up the land transaction, reported to the council that Dr. Shields conveyed a parcel of land to the trustees of Linden Academy in 1902. He said it appeared the land Shields transferred to the academy was not the land the park sits on today.

“It would seem that the trustees of Linden Academy would have conveyed it to the school system at some point,” he said. The area where the park is located was actually part of a subdivision and was acquired by the city some years later.

“You mean we may dig further and find we have two or three other people (besides Dr. Shields) that may have donated land as well?” asked councilman Mike Carlisle.

“My opinion is I am not taking Mr. Austin’s name off the park,” councilman Dennis Breckenridge said about the issue. “We may decide to add the Shields to it — I don’t know. I don’t have enough information.”

“I thought when this was discussed during the last administration I felt like it was going to be a thing where the decision (to change the name) was already made,” Lankster replied. “I didn’t know it was going to be a thing where the council was going to have to actually question any facts concerning this, or how different families would feel about it.” Mayor Gates said she would like to know what citizens throughout the city thought about changing the name.

The issue was tabled until the next city council meeting on Feb. 3