BIGLER- Seventy-five years ago in 1948, a group of parents met in the basement of the United Methodist Church to discuss the best way to provide healthy recreational activities for the young people of Bigler.
Many of the men had recently returned home from serving in the military during World War II, and the women were focused on raising their families.
The village had a new energy as the post-war baby boom impacted Bigler in a very positive way.
The original impetus for the meeting was to discuss how to counter the perceived negative influence the new pool hall was having on the teenagers.
The end result, however, was the formation of the Bigler Civic and Recreation Association with the goal of building a community center where the youth could be involved in well-supervised, healthy activities.
Early on the group realized a community center was a very ambitious goal. However, as the result of a gift of 10 acres of land from Ray and Louise Walker, the association focused on building a community playground.
During the first year, many fundraisers were held to help raise money to buy playground equipment. These fundraisers included cake walks, donkey ball games, turkey shoots, etc. After a year of community projects, $1,000 had been raised to buy playground equipment.
That summer a new swing set, sliding board, merry-go-round, monkey bars and seesaws were installed and Bigler had its first organized playground.
Sprig Williams, a physical education teacher at Philipsburg, was hired as the first playground instructor.
That summer, in 1948, proved to be magical for the youth of Bigler, and every year since, the people of the village have funded a free playground for the youth of the community. Anyone who grew up in Bigler has fond memories.
With the exception of the merry-go-round, which was deemed unsafe, all the original equipment purchased in 1948 is still in use today.
However, thanks to the generosity of many donors, the playground will be expanded and re-dedicated at the annual Strawberry Festival on June 24.
The cost of replacing the original equipment, which was purchased in 1948 for $1,000, will now be in excess of $100,000.
The expanded playground will be named in honor of Louise S. Walker, who was the driving force behind the 1948 project.
Over the years, the association organized many youth activities including scouting, Little League Baseball and youth soccer. All were highly successful.
Finally in 1984, the original goal of the community center for the village became a reality. Thanks to a generous gift from Ray and Louise Walker and many community fundraisers, a new YMCA was constructed.
The Bigler Civic and Recreation Association deeded the original 10-acre park and transferred all their funds to the Bigler YMCA. For the past 40 years, the YMCA has operated the Y as well as the Bigler playground.
Today, the Bigler Y continues to sponsor scouting, baseball, soccer and numerous youth activities. It also provides free groceries for families in need every other Monday.
In retrospect, Linda Kovalick, current president of the Y board, observes, “There is something here for everyone, and I think the activities we offer our young people today go way beyond the original vision the founders of this organization had for a Bigler Community Center. The Y makes Bigler a very special place.”