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New Hope for ball park: Community looks to restore Edelen Field to its glory days

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By Randy Patrick

Wendell Culver remembers playing softball at Edelen Field in the late 1970s and early 80s and later coaching teams there.

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“We used to have a couple hundred people come out for weekend tournaments on Fridays and Saturdays,” he said. “There were a lot of good memories there, that’s for sure. It was always a good time.”

Now the crack of wood on leather and cheers of crowds are echoes of the past.

Edelen Field, or New Hope Ballpark, as it’s also called by locals, has fallen into disuse and disrepair since a food bank that had maintained the ball park and community center closed last year and abandoned the property.

The people of this southern Nelson County neighborhood, however, have rallied to save the park and restore it. They’ve named a new board of directors, gotten the lights back on and cleaned up the place, and last Saturday, they had their biggest fundraiser yet — a dinner and auction that raised more than $40,000 to pay off their note and improve the property.

While children amused themselves on the playground, grownups enjoyed hot food, cold beer and camaraderie among old friends.

It was a homecoming for current and former residents of New Hope, kind of like the annual picnics hosted there for many years.

“We used to have one hell of a picnic. People drove from everywhere” to attend it, said Sandy Riley, who was helping out with the event Saturday.

“We’re just trying to save our ball park,” Riley said.

“It used to be the best ball park in all the surrounding counties,” she added.

Edelen Field was the dream of Joe Howard, a former Trappist monk from the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he was known as Brother Nicholas.

He wanted a ball field for New Hope, and asked his abbot of the monastery for the money, but was denied, so he found another way, by getting permission to cut down 40 walnut trees and sell the wood to a German buyer to purchase the property, with the stipulation that it be named in honor of Everett Edelen.

Brother Nick, as he is still locally known, was honored at the auction Saturday.

Lauren Dowell moved to New Hope from New Jersey with her husband 25 years ago.

“I wouldn’t go any place else,” she said.

She is the new board chair, and was involved in promoting and hosting the Saturday fundraiser, as well as a recent Golden Boy rifle auction and other benefits. Together, they’ve raised $43,696.69.

Other benefits are planned, including a boat float at noon June 15 on the Rolling Fork River.

Dowell said she couldn’t believe what a success the auction was.

“This is going to get us out of debt, for sure, and do some repairs,” she said Monday.

Long term, they want to replace the old playground equipment, and put in park seating and a walking trail.

Dowell said that at least 275 tickets were sold at the gate, but she thinks there may have been more who attended. Nobody was taking tickets late that night.

“It was such a good feeling the other night, because there were kids on the playground and people talking to each other,” she said.

If they can maintain the interest in it, Dowell said, they can bring back the parties, family reunions, picnics and “community spirit.”

“I think the people have spoken, and they want their ball park back,” she said.