Springfield lost a neighborhood champion in November 2019 when Gary Blankenship unexpectedly suffered a heart attack. The celebration of the life of the long-time president of the Historic Walnut Street Association (HWSA) sparked reminders of three qualities he shared with grassroots leaders throughout our community – gracious hospitality, vision and commitment to service.
Gary was the consummate host for the Walnut Street Inn Bed and Breakfast, which he and his wife Paula purchased in 1996. He was a proud promoter of his district, Downtown and Springfield. He was active in the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau and became a mentor for many new innkeepers across the country. We will always think of Gary upon seeing thousands of families flocking to Walnut Street for Artsfest in the spring and Cider Days each fall.
Neighborhood leaders develop a deep appreciation of the history of their respective areas. They become ambassadors to spotlight what makes their section of Springfield unique. They are a resource for local media. They open their own homes for meetings and holiday socials. The genuine passion they exude for their neighborhood is easy to spot, and infectious.
Vision – near and far-sighted
Gary was one of our pioneers in urban revitalization. He proudly defended the preservation of Walnut Street’s historic homes. He called city hall to get alleys cleaned and streetscapes enhanced. He recognized the importance of the district’s connections to Missouri State University and Downtown – supporting everyone’s successes, as a rising tide lifts all ships. He was ahead of his time by advocating for Springfield to host a major Route 66 festival a decade before it was started nine years ago.
In much the same way, neighborhood leaders must be able to clearly look to the past to understand how they arrived at today’s assortment of accomplishments and difficulties, while simultaneously gazing toward the horizon to chart a course toward a better tomorrow. Our vision tests manifest themselves in a variety of ways – events we hold to honor our history, participating in Neighborhood Teams to address chronic nuisance properties, attending Neighborhood Advisory Council meetings to advocate for new ordinances and grants written to improve future greenways, parks and public spaces.
Commitment to service
In his role as HWSA president, Gary served on the Urban Districts Alliance board, was a founding member of the Hospitality Resource Panel and guided the growth of Cider Days into being voted the region’s Best Community Event in 2018. He was fortunate enough to see some of the fruits of his labors as Paula noted how proud he was of Center City’s growth over the past 20 years.
Our neighborhood volunteers dedicate many hours each month away from their homes and businesses. They coordinate board meetings and potlucks. They navigate up to the third floor of City Hall to make sure their neighborhood is well represented at City Council on key issues. They reach out to school principals to see what can be done to help our kids. In the end, whatever it takes to make a difference.
As we start the new decade of the 2020s, please join me in thanking the family of Gary Blankenship and all Springfieldians who demonstrate gracious hospitality, exercise vision for their neighborhood and rise to a commitment of service. Our community is, and will be, a better place because of their efforts.