Park ties neighbors together

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  /Al Key/DRC File photo
At Nette Shultz Park, Chad Bourgeois
and his wife, Esther, walk their labs in 10 inches of snow that fell in February 2010.
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Denton’s Nette Shultz area takes natural path to forming community

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is part of an ongoing series spotlighting different neighborhoods in Denton. The stories by journalism students are part of an ongoing partnership between the Mayborn School of Journalism at the University of North Texas and the Denton Record-Chronicle.

 

On a cool, sunny October morning, Jennifer Wages sits underneath the same oak trees in Nette Shultz Park that she has loved since she was a child.

Wages, tall with chestnut brown hair whose grooming reflects her job as a hairstylist, takes particular pride in the park and a love for the neighborhood that surrounds it. Her pride stems from the contributions she’s made to the bustling park, its concrete walkways buzzing with neighbors jogging or walking their dogs.

Unlike prefabricated neighborhoods with manicured lawns, cookie-cutter homes and overbearing homeowner associations, the Nette Shultz neighborhood doesn’t need to manufacture community. It’s a genuine neighborhood complete with families who have lived here for generations and who take care of each other as well as the neighborhood they live in.

On school days, parents can be seen walking their children to Woodrow Wilson Elementary School. Wages has lived here long enough to identify her neighbors just by looking at their dogs.

“There’s a comfort level in this neighborhood,” she said. “It feels like home.”

Nette Shultz, tucked off University Drive, northeast of Texas Woman’s University, is an eclectic mix of houses in the midst of a growing college town. Some of the houses are kept in pristine condition and have been in the same family for generations; others are rental properties whose appearance is less flattering.

This juxtaposition isn’t a problem for residents like Jennifer Wages, because their neighborhood is just how they like it.

The neighborhood sits on 191 acres that once belonged to its namesake, Nette Shultz. According to the elementary school’s website, Shultz donated the land to the Denton school district because she was interested in the children of Denton getting a good education.

She got what she wanted: From 1998 to 2003, Wilson Elementary got an “exemplary” rating from the state. Wilson is also a neighborhood school, says its principal, Audrey Staniszewski.

“More than 90 percent of the students of Wilson Elementary live in the surrounding neighborhoods,” she said.

As a child, Wages recalls spending weekends with her grandparents, who lived in the neighborhood.

“We spent lots of times in that kitchen cooking,” she said. “I had so many good memories in that house.”

In 1993, after her grandparents died, Wages and her husband, just starting a family of their own, decided to purchase the house. The park where she had played as a child was only a block away, and with Wilson Elementary’s solid reputation, Wages felt comfortable with the idea of their then-2-year-old daughter someday attending school there.

“Many people who grow up here leave,” Wages said. “But they seem to find a way to move back.”

Jody McGuire was born and raised in Denton, and moved into her first home in the Nette Shultz neighborhood in 1988 after her husband finished his residency in Waco.

Four years later, after their next-door neighbor died, the McGuires bought his house and moved in, keeping their old home for Jody McGuire’s parents.

“A lot of these people have these houses forever,” she said.

By the early ’90s, concerns grew about the safety of Nette Shultz Park as well as neighboring Avondale Park. Playground equipment was outdated, the paint chipped, the metal structures too tall for children to safely play on. The absence of sidewalks around Nette Shultz Park also raised concerns.

In 1998, Wages, McGuire and two other women decided to do something about the parks’ conditions. They formed Pave the Path, an organization committed to raising money to augment funds set aside for park improvements by the Denton Parks and Recreation Department. Their goal was to put sidewalks around the park to improve accessibility and to provide a safer alternative than the streets for kids riding their bikes or walking to school.

The four women sought donations from businesses, residents and the Wilson Elementary PTA. They held a picnic in the park, selling bricks to donors who could have their names inscribed on the bricks to be laid in the new sidewalk.

“Some days, intimidation did set in and it was overwhelming,” McGuire recalled. “I also believe that we were young and very naive.”

When they were done, the group had raised $60,000, which was added to the $75,000 already set aside by the parks department.

The renovation breathed new life into Nette Shultz Park. Its connecting sidewalks made it safer for students at the elementary school, which began to use the park for its physical education and running club. Residents now had an easily accessible place to jog or walk their dogs.

“It does my heart good to look at the park and see people enjoying it,” McGuire said. “It was really worth it.”

More park renovations followed in 2001: a practice backboard was placed on the tennis court and more trees were planted.

Wages sits at a picnic table in the park, smiling as she looks at her neighbors enjoying the park. She needs to begin her day and stands up, walking on the sidewalk that might not be there if not for her hard work.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Wages said, laughing. “I’ll be in this neighborhood until I expire.”


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