Christopher Wren’s tomb at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London contains a simple plaque with a Latin inscription.
It translates to this: “Reader, if you seek a monument, look around.”
Unlike Wren, Bill McKinney was not an architect responsible for monumental buildings in one of the world’s great cities. McKinney, in his own way, leaves behind a tangible legacy, this one devoted to chlorinated water, gymnasium floors, dirt and turf.
His influence is felt in the fields where adults still swing for the fences, the pools where kids cool off on summer days and the courts filled with players young and old who aren’t afraid to take the last shot. The former St. Joseph parks director died last week at the age of 82.
McKinney made a mark as a standout athlete at Lafayette High School, where he crossed paths with Bill Snyder, who went on to become the legendary head football coach at Kansas State University. McKinney played football at the University of Missouri under another legendary coach, Don Faurot, before beginning a career in coaching and business.
But it was in directing the city’s parks department, a position McKinney held for 28 years, where the St. Joseph public truly benefits from his passion for sports.
McKinney led the completion of the Remington Nature Center, St. Joseph REC Center, St. Joseph Aquatic Park and Heritage Park during his tenure as parks director. Improvements were made to several existing facilities, including Phil Welch Stadium, Bode Ice Arena and the clubhouse at Fairview Golf Course.
These facilities all add to St. Joseph’s quality of life and provide outlets for recreation and exercise all year around. It is true that maintenance and operation of these facilities will be an ongoing issue for St. Joseph — just witness the limited pool opening this year — but it’s hard to make an argument that this city is better off with fewer rather than more modern recreational amenities.
Anyone who walks into the Nature Center or the REC Center, or plays a game on the softball fields named in McKinney’s honor, will owe the former parks director a debt of gratitude.
We remember McKinney, not because he designed buildings of grandeur, but because he constantly advocated for ways to make St. Joseph parks facilities better. He refused to take no for an answer.
On each of these projects — the Nature Center, REC Center, the Aquatic Park and more — someone always offered pushback and suggested that now’s not the time, that the money could be spent elsewhere, that there’s some pothole needing to be filled somewhere in town.
McKinney’s legacy is that he pushed back on the pushback. We all have more places to play because of that.