Park Board turns down request for Elliott memorial sign

A memorial sign for retired Sprint car driver Tony Elliott will not be placed in a Warsaw’s Central Park.

The Warsaw Park Board Tuesday evening voted to send the matter back to Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer to find a more appropriate and prominent spot for the sign. Elliott’s mother, Sue Priest, who had requested the sign be placed in a Warsaw park, left Tuesday’s meeting disappointed and in tears.

Elliott was killed in a plane crash Oct. 2, 2015, along with City Councilman Charlie Smith, his son and local attorney Scott Smith, and former Tippecanoe Valley High School football coach Scott Bibler.

At Tuesday’s meeting Park Board member Bill Baldwin said he checked with 12 other park departments in the area and heard back from nine or 10 of them.

“Not one of them allow free-standing signs in the park. What they do have is attached to a tree, one of the tree programs … in memory of a family member, you put a small plaque at the bottom of the tree, or a lot of them have bench programs,” he explained.

Baldwin said he then checked park websites nationwide. He found restrictions and regulations, but “none of them would approve a free-standing sign. Some of them said it doesn’t enhance the park…And a lot of them said, ‘What about precedent? Once you do it, you have to do it again and again and again,” he said.

City Council representative Diane Quance sent the matter out on an Indiana listserv  “and they all responded in the negative, that they do not allow any memorial signs in the parks.”

She said some of the parks had very specific recommendations, like having memorial trees or benches, but those were “very clearly spelled out,” like where the sign could be placed, waivers and the establishment of an endowment fund to upkeep the memorial.

“Some of them were as simple as ‘don’t do it,’” she said.

Other considerations brought up were precedence and who would decide who was worthy to be in the park or not.

“We took this much time with it because we would like to see this happen in some way to be able to honor Tony, and figuring out whether or not the parks is the correct venue in order to put the sign or not,” Quance said.

Quance said the committee’s recommendation was to return the request for the sign to the mayor to explore a more appropriate place in the city. She also said since the committee already had a lot of research, they would be happy to work with city attorney Mike Valentine on guidelines if similar questions come up in the future.

Priest said the Indiana Racing Memorial Association “has done this for all of their drivers that have been worthy of it. Over 20. This is the first one that they had a problem with. They go in all their parks. And like I say, if you ever get to Noblesville, go to Forest Park and look at it.”

Park Superintendent Larry Plummer said everyone agreed that Elliott was well worthy of the sign, but it all came down to whether it was in the park or somewhere else.

“He’s been an ambassador for Warsaw all over the country and other countries and represented Warsaw well,” Plummer said.

Plummer said there were two other memorials in Warsaw parks – one in Central Park for Kosciusko County Sheriff’s Department Det. Sgt. Phillip Hochstetler, who was shot and killed in the line of duty; and a plaque in Kiddieland at Center Lake for a past park superintendent. The Glover Pavilion, where Friday’s country concert will take place, also was named for a couple who gave monetary donations.

Quance said the mayor was against tabling the matter for another month but would prefer the park board send it back to him if they didn’t approve it. Ladd made a motion to send the matter to the mayor, and his motion was unanimously approved.

Priest said Thallemer has talked to Elliott’s wife, Cindy, several times. “How well-known this boy was. … We had people from New Zealand at his service,” she said as she left.