Longtime city parks director dies

GREENFIELD — A small, simple memorial was placed along the snowy Pennsy Trail on Wednesday, honoring the man who was committed to the development of the city’s parks for two decades.

Clark Ketchum, Greenfield parks director from 1985-2005, died Tuesday. While the memorial notes that Ketchum was dedicated to making Greenfield a better place to live and work through its recreation facilities, perhaps this is the most telling line in the tribute: “He will truly be missed by his family and friends.”

Ketchum, 76, had been living in his hometown of Petoskey, Michigan, in recent years, but he never forgot his friends in Greenfield nor the programs and facilities he helped create.

“He was always for the underdog, and he’d do anything to help you,” said Jim McWhinney, maintenance foreman for the city’s parks department.

McWhinney spent part of Wednesday morning honoring his friend by placing the tribute sign in front of the statue that resembles Ketchum. In 2013 a 2,300-pound steel statue of a golfer was placed at the trail near the Hancock County Courthouse Annex in honor of Ketchum, an avid golfer.

Back then, friends gathered for a surprise statue reveal party for Ketchum, honoring their friend who was ill.

The Hancock County Arts Council, Hancock County Community Foundation, Regreening Greenfield and PARCS Inc., along with about 10 different couples and individuals, had chipped in money for the statue.

On Wednesday, those same folks were grieving the loss of their friend.

“He took the Greenfield Parks Department to the level that we enjoy today,” said Ellen Kuker, current director of the department.

Brandywine Park, Beckenholdt Park and the Pennsy Trail are examples of projects Ketchum coordinated and obtained funding for. He was also involved with the Riley Home, Girls and Boys Clubs of Hancock County, Nameless Creek Youth Camp, Youth as Resources, Greenfield Kiwanis and various youth athletic clubs.

Recently, Ketchum worked as a consultant to help the parks department update its 2014-18 master plan, and he traveled to Greenfield regularly to assist.

“He just had such a great grasp of Greenfield and the vision for the parks that he made that process extremely easy to deal with,” Kuker said. “He walked me through the process and made it painless, and I learned so much. Even after, if I had questions (or) if I wasn’t sure about something, I could reach out to him.”

Ketchum, a board member of the Hancock County Community Foundation from 1992-2002, established an endowment fund in 1994 benefiting the parks department and senior center.

“What I loved most about Clark is, once he made a commitment, he was committed forever,” said Mary Gibble, president of the foundation. “That was his long-term, vested dedication that is really special. It stands out, and you don’t come across that every day.”

McWhinney said local groups will be planning a memorial event for Ketchum this spring. He spent part of the day Wednesday compiling biographical information about Ketchum, who he said started out as a barber but worked part time in a parks department in Michigan before deciding to make that a career. It took Ketchum almost 20 years to earn an undergraduate degree, McWhinney wrote, before serving as Greenfield’s director.

Ketchum is survived by his wife, Grace, and three grown children who all live in Michigan.

Longtime friend Ron Pritzke said while Ketchum was deeply involved in the community through the years, he was never one to crave recognition or accolades.

“He worked tirelessly for the city,” Pritzke said. “He was a very humble guy and never wanted to take credit for the work he had done.”