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Living her life’s purpose

Author Joan Wagner writes about the park of her childhood

Created date

October 26th, 2010

Joan Wagner spent the majority of her life connected to Burholme Park. Located in the Fox Chase neighborhood in Philadelphia, the park includes the Ryerss Museum and Library and is free and open to the public. A community treasure for the last 100 years, the park is in danger and needs the community to step in and save it. That s why Wagner wrote her book, The Burholme Park Story. Though Wagner now lives at Wind Crest, an Erickson Living community in Highlands Ranch, Colo., and has lived in Colorado since 1978, her love for Philadelphia and Burholme Park, where she spent the first 45 years of her life, has never left her. Wagner was three years old when she first visited the Ryerss Museum when her great-grandfather took her by the hand and led her into the building one hot afternoon. It was just an ordinary summer day, one like every other Saturday when her great-grandfather would take her to interesting cultural places. But somehow, this place was different. Somehow, this place left an impression on the three-year-old Joan that would last a lifetime. I remember the trip well, even now, Wagner says. There were statues and artifacts from all over the world; the smell of books permeated the building and bounced off the walls. Seeing the elephant statue that Wagner describes in the introduction of her book not only started her love for elephants but, more importantly, formulated her life s philosophy to keep fighting for the things she believes in. People don t realize that children hold impressions and those impressions help shape their lives, Wagner says. And Burholme Park is something Wagner is more than simply passionate about; it s a community treasure that has been connecting people for her entire lifetime.

One woman s beginnings

Wagner lived within walking distance of the park for most of her life, and when it was time for her to start her own family, she wanted to raise them close to the park where she spent so much time traveling in her imagination, through both the books and the ancient artifacts the museum held. The Wagners backyard bumped up against the park; it was all around her. When she checked out books, it was from the Ryerss Library. And it was that very library that had a plan for her. One day, she walked into the library to get books and she walked out with the possibility of being a librarian. She d been a secretary until she decided to stay at home to raise her children, but she wanted more she wanted to be surrounded by books. So in 1973, with no prior experience, Wagner became the assistant librarian at Ryerss. After one year, the head librarian quit to spend more time with her own family, and Wagner found herself being promoted. Wagner chronicles all of this in her book, which is part memoir and part history of the park and the family who brought it to the people of Philadelphia.

Fast forward to when she strayed

On Wagner s watch, Burholme Park was resurrected and the community started paying greater attention to the Ryerss Library and Museum. What started with a handful of dedicated volunteers grew into a movement of 100 community members who wanted to not only save the park but also breathe new life into it. In 1977, the city of Philadelphia decided to restore the Ryerss Library and Museum even though Wagner and the Friends of Burholme Park, now called the Friends of Ryerss, had already started the restoration process by carefully exposing the black marble fireplaces hidden under white paint and bringing out the natural glow in the floors. After all that work was done, it was then that life had another plan for Wagner. In 1978, she and her husband moved to Colorado, a place they had visited many times and fallen in love with. During the four years that Wagner worked as a librarian, she collected mementos of the park little facts and pieces of history and information that she tucked away in a drawer. She wanted to write the history of the park and the family who had given the park to the community with the vision that it would be free to the public forever. In time, the patrons of the library would ask her to tell the story of Burholme Park. And she would eventually.

Life comes full circle

For 32 years, Wagner held onto the dream to tell the story only she could tell. Over the years, the notes on Burholme Park transferred from cabinet to cardboard box, but the details always waited patiently for her. When she and her husband, Ed, moved into Wind Crest in 2007, the cardboard box was shifted once again, this time to under the bed. Until one day when she was at dinner with a neighbor who had just had a book published. She told Wagner to get busy writing, and Wagner pulled the box out from under the bed and got lost in the story. Wagner knew the 100th year celebration of Burholme Park being open to the public was coming up on May 14, 2010, and she also knew that the park was experiencing some threats the hospital next door wanted to expand into the 50-acre park so she knew it was time to write the book to educate people about the park s history and to raise awareness about its importance. Even 2,000 miles away, Burholme Park was calling to her, to fulfill her life s purpose. And that s exactly what she did. On May 14, 2010, Wagner sold copies of her book to patrons at the celebration for the Ryerss Library and Museum. Sitting on the steps with book in hand, Wagner smiled at the fact that she had done her part to help save the park she loves so much. But she was also missing Wind Crest, where her passion of being a librarian has once again become a reality. Wagner knows she doesn t have to choose between Philadelphia or Highlands Ranch; there s enough room in her heart for both places that have helped shape who she is. Note: In January 2010, after five years of fighting to expand into the park, the hospital abandoned its expansion efforts, and Burholme Park was saved. For now. In order to survive, it needs the community fighting for it every day. For more information, please


The Burholme Park Story

by Joan Wagner
Introduction 1935 The elderly gentleman held the little girl s hand as they climbed the granite steps to the wide wooden veranda in front of the beautiful old house. As they approached the double entrance doors, he cautioned her to be quiet and not touch anything. The house was cool and dark inside a refreshing change from the bright summer sun in the park. As her eyes became accustomed to the diminished light, she was aware of many wonderful things. There was a knight in full armor and a samurai warrior, marble statues on pedestals, and figures of oriental gods frightening away evil spirits from temples. But of all the wonderful things she saw, she was most fascinated by a bronze elephant with ivory tusks. Two lions were climbing on its back trying to kill it. The expression on the elephant s face showed its determination to survive. She did not know the proper names of all these things since she was only three years old, but she was completely captivated with this place. She was also more than a little frightened, but knew that as long as she held very tightly to Great-Granddaddy s hand, everything would be alright.