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Fallen officer inspires community partners to build reflective park in Buckeye

The entrance to Derek Owens Memorial Park on Parkview Avenue

Sometimes you stumble upon some of the most beautiful, warm-spirited folks and lush green spaces, and that’s what happened to me one day in the Buckeye/Woodland Hills neighborhood.

One Sunday, while traveling east on Parkview between Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. and East 102nd St., I saw a gentleman cutting, edging, and trimming the grass and maintaining the landscape of the park named in honor of fallen Cleveland Police Officer Derek Wayne Owens. After checking my rearview mirror to make sure I would not be impeding the drivers behind me, I parked my car, went over to the gentleman, and introduced myself. I soon learned that Keith Sulzer had retired from the Cleveland Police Department after 30 years of service.

Captain Sulzer recounted how on Friday, February 29, 2008, 36-year-old Officer Owens was shot and killed after approaching four men drinking alcoholic beverages on the property of an abandoned two-family house at 10410 Parkview Ave. The men ran. Owens and his partner pursued the suspects. One of the suspects opened fire, striking him in the abdomen. Owens died from his injuries during surgery.

I could sense the anguish and grief Sulzer experienced at the loss of Officer Owens, who was working under his leadership at the time of his death.

“Although this park isn’t big, it is mighty and has a ton of personality,” Sulzer told the Western Reserve Land Conservancy in 2019, when the park was almost complete. “This project has been four years in the making and the Cleveland Police Foundation, local business owners, and the entire community are proud of what we’ve accomplished together to remember Officer Owens and his family.”

The Western Reserve Land Conservancy helped consolidate the three parcels of land, which were purchased by the Cleveland Police Foundation, that now form Derek Owens Memorial Park. Other partners in the project included the Saint Luke’s Foundation, Cleveland Foundation, and LAND Studio, which helped design the park at 10404 Parkview Ave.

“A lot of creativity went into making Derek’s park a meaningful place,” said Sulzer. “The community pitching in and making this happen – that’s where the great meaning for this park is.”

The Cleveland Browns donated the playground equipment, while other community partners included Cement Masons 404, who donated all the labor for the concrete, and Tech Ready Mix, which donated the concrete. The Ironworkers Union, Carpenters Union, and Painters Union also donated their services. Borchert Fence donated the park’s beautiful, 100-year-old wrought-iron fence. Ozanne Construction also donated resources and time to the memorial park honoring Officer Derek Owens’ legacy.

According to Jared Saylor, director of communications and public relations for the Western Reserve Land Conservancy, Saint Luke’s Foundation has funded six projects in the Mount Pleasant and Buckeye neighborhoods, and this is one of the six where previously vacant and abandoned properties have been turned into parks and community gardens. The land conservancy works to preserve natural areas and with its urban program, Thriving Communities, seeks to help urban areas hurt by the foreclosure crisis.

“LAND Studio worked with the family to design the features of the park,” Saylor said. The park features trees, landscape plants, and reflective walking paths made from the sandstone foundations of demolished neighborhood structures. The three benches representing Derek’s wife and two children were made from the front steps of one of the demolished homes on the property. The park has 13 benches in total.

Another pivotal feature of the park is the compass rose set into the sidewalk that welcomes visitors to the park. A compass rose, sometimes called a wind rose, rose of the winds, or a compass star, is a figure used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions – north, east, south and west – as well as their intermediate points.

An additional enhancement to the park is the labyrinth. Labyrinths are ancient designs dating back some 4,000 years or more. Labyrinths were used as places to walk and meditate; they are thought to enhance right-brain activity that leads to personal, psychological, and spiritual growth.

Another fascinating feature of the park is its mound, which Saylor said “represents the continuity of life…it’s all a big circle, it’s woven into the cement area over there.” Ohio is known for its mounds, especially the Serpent Mound which is an internationally known National Historic Landmark built by ancient Native Americans residing in the Ohio River Valley.

Saylor said that in the spring of 2023 the Western Reserve Land Conservancy will plant flowers native to this area that will attract bees and butterflies. He hopes that the community and neighbors will use the park as a public gathering space to relax, reflect, and enjoy fellowship. The park is open 6 a.m. until 9 p.m. daily. Deborah Gray, Ward 4 councilwoman, mentioned that a permit is not required to use the park.

Finally, the park features the Badge 746 Book Bank. When visiting the park, visitors are encouraged to place books or magazines in the book bank, or to take them.

Sulzer served in various districts before his retirement. He was a police officer commander for seven years in the 2nd District, and for two years he was a police captain in the 4th District. “I maintain the park because I built it and made the commitment to the family, the neighborhood, and the Cleveland Police Foundation,” he said. “It’s also a small sacrifice compared to Derek losing his life protecting his community.”

The Cleveland Police Foundation provides funding for youth and community outreach programs, community policing and engagement initiatives, and safety and crime prevention programs. They also support the members of the Cleveland Division of Police to help them better perform their duties.

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