When I first tried to look up Townsend Park, I wasn’t interested in it. There was no information on it besides what trails winded through the trees. I almost didn't pursue to write a blog about it because there just wasn’t a story to tell. That was until a good friend of mine had a story for me to hear about the park that I would never have known otherwise. The story began when my friend, Dave, spoke of his best friend growing up, Ron Stoll. Dave and Ron met in high school at Franklin Regional. They sat near each other in class and would go skiing together. Dave said that one of Ron’s outstanding characteristics was that he was really funny. While Dave was on the track team; Ron was on the cross-country team, being in the top five on the team. The two were best friends throughout high school and college. They stayed in touch while Dave studied at St. Vincent College and Ron attended the University of Pittsburgh Johnstown Campus. They would write letters to each other and always joke about buying a ski resort and joining the U.S. Olympics Frisbee Team.
But the jokes stopped and so did the letters. On May 25, 1982, Ron got into a horrible car accident. Ron lost control of his car and crashed into a tree on an embankment, which left the car sitting sideways, horizontally. No one was hurt badly, until him and his friend, who was the passenger, got out of the car. His friend slammed the door, and the car flipped over onto Ron. He was pinned under the car and fading fast. The fire department came as quickly as they could, and Dave remembered hearing that they used the new air bags for the first time to get him out. In the past, they would use a car jack to get victims unpinned from beneath cars, but since the jack would lower first before lifting up, it wasn’t a great way to save someone, ultimately crushing them more. So the airbags were inflated to lift the car up off of Ron, and he was rushed to the hospital with critical injuries. Dave was working at a golf course at the time, and he remembered when he looked up from working, he saw his roommate, Jim, and his mom walking towards him. They told him what happened to Ron and Dave immediately ran to his boss, telling him he had to see his friend. Dave remembered seeing Ron with tubes all over him. He was unconscious and covered in bandages. Dave could hear the machines while he stood there for a little while and the doctors told him that’s all there was to Ron. Ron passed away in the hospital that night on May 26, 1982. He never got to graduate college.
Some of Dave’s friends called him to make sure he was okay, but it didn’t quite help him. The tragic event made Dave become anti-social, as he began not to participate in activities he once enjoyed. He also stopped going to church volleyball because he just couldn’t deal with the fact that Ron would not be there. Dave would see Ron the whole summer, every Wednesday, at the cemetery where he was laid to rest. After Ron’s death, nothing seemed like a big deal to Dave. It was very hard for him to cope with the loss of his best friend. Dave noted, “Wish he had lived not just so I could be a part of his life and he a part of mine, but also so I could watch him become the great man he would’ve turned into.”
One of Dave’s favorite memories with Ron was when they rode bikes on the last day of high school. They planned to ride to the local Pizza Hut and then ride to Ron’s house. Dave remembered it was a gorgeous day out, and they were both excited that school was over, and summer fun was about to begin. Dave also remembered something unique about Ron. He said that Ron had great hand coordination. A common toy they used to play with was something like a pop-up ball. Except the ones they played with were flat, about the size of a quarter, and much thinner. People would push them on a table and wait until it popped off. Ron would be able to catch one of them (which, if you played with them, they’re very difficult to catch) with just a flick of the wrist. It truly amazed all his friends. Talk about skill. When Dave remembered another favorite memory of his, it truly touched my heart how he put it into words. I knew I couldn’t paraphrase it. I had to quote it just the way he put it:
"I remember, most fondly, a day that was quite special to me.
It was an incredible day, the kind of day that anyone would choose as their perfect day. It had everything, very agreeable temperatures-75-80 degrees, a light whisper of a breeze and nary a cloud in the sky. And the sky - the sky was clear and blue and allowed visibility for miles and miles. I'm not a pilot, but I have to believe that this is the kind of day pilots live for.
Ron and I had just gotten back from....somewhere....and decided to go outside and enjoy a lovely afternoon by tossing a Frisbee around. It's something we enjoyed doing frequently - hence the Frisbee Team aspirations. There I was, throwing a Frisbee to my closest friend, talking about our lives and our futures on a perfect day.
It's one of the first memories that come to mind when I think about him. It's a simple memory, but they're usually the best. It doesn't really sadden me, in fact it makes me feel quite the opposite. It was an extremely happy moment in my life, one that I draw on often.....a special moment with my closest friend. A lot of people don't get to have an experience like that. I'm very lucky that this small moment in time provides an enormously pleasing and uplifting memory for me."
After Ron passed away, Robert Bell, a park foreman, wanted to build a fitness trail in Townsend Park in memory of him. It took a year to complete, but once it was done the trail had various fitness stations for people to use and workout. Dave helped build the fitness trail whenever he could on the weekends. The obstacles varied from wooden and log exercise stations where joggers could do sit-ups, push-ups, and other exercises on tires that were lined up in an obstacle course. More trails were built after the fitness trail was finished. Nowadays, though, the fitness obstacles are no longer there. When I asked Dave if he knew why they were no longer there, he mentioned that they might not have been able to keep up with the maintenance since most of them were made out of wood. As I hiked Townsend Park, the first trail we had hiked was, in fact, the one dedicated to Ron. The sign is placed right at the beginning with his name. As I walked the trail, I tried to imagine the young soul and his love for athletics. It was such a shame that I was standing there on a gorgeous day enjoying nature, and he wasn’t there to see it. Ron has some pretty great friends, who I hope still think about him this day. My fiance and I enjoyed our hike there, wandering along all the trails and finding hidden things within the woods. They also have a pond there that you are allowed to fish in and Heartattack Hill, where, if you dare, you can run up (or down) at your own risk. After seeing what this little park had to offer, it put what Dave said to me in perspective.
“Cherish the people around you because you never know what will happen when they walk out the door.”
Please enjoy these photos I captured from our trip to Townsend Park. Also, check out the video below and listen carefully. I love to hear nature while I’m hiking. No distractions. As I was walking, it was a windy day, and the trees were creaking as they swayed. I like to think that the trees are talking to each other. Some say they are the trees, some say they are spirits.