City Council to Consider Whether to Rename Bailey Park After Sally Silver

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Monday, March 9, 2020, 2:00 pm
Emily Joan Elliott

Above: Sally Silver with a statue of Liberty Hyde Bailey in a photo contributed by Brian Silver.

Looks like International Women’s Day is going local, as East Lansing may soon have a park named after a woman for the first time in its history.

City Council will discuss renaming the park on the north side of Bailey Center the “Sally T. Silver Bailey Neighborhood Park” at its meeting this Wednesday, March 11.

Asked yesterday by ELi whether she had heard about the nomination, Silver responded, “No, I hadn't heard about that and am amazed by it.”

She added, “I would consider this a great honor, and would share it with all those who have worked to retain the playground/park as an important asset and center of activity for all residents of the neighborhood and city!”

Council member Mark Meadows added the item to the agenda on March 3, three days into Women’s History Month.

Honoring a woman has been a long time coming. To date, all parks in East Lansing and the City’s three named public schools — Bailey, MacDonald, and Hannah — have honored men.

When it officially became a park in 2016, the small downtown green space next to Black Cat Bistro was named after William B. Sharp following a recommendation from Mark Meadows to honor his late friend.

In 2017, City Council responded to a request by two community members and renamed the park under the water tower after Gordon Guyer, a longtime resident of Shaw Estates and president of MSU for one year.

For men only, up til now

The continued pattern of only honoring men drove ELi publisher and government reporter Alice Dreger to question Meadows at a March 2017 meeting about whether there was any park named after a female. Meadows said he thought there probably was, and so Dreger filed a Freedom of Information Act which quickly confirmed that no parks in East Lansing were named after females.

Apparently the only named public-asset-recognition of a woman is the red sculpture outside City Hall, which is named in honor of Mary P. Sharp, a crusader for civil rights who served the East Lansing and MSU communities.

In 2017, Dreger noted that City guidelines call for parks and public spaces to be named only after deceased persons, yet in 2013, Council waived this requirement to name East Lansing’s soccer stadium after another man — Nick Archer, East Lansing High School’s longtime soccer coach, who retired in 2018.

Meadows’ application for the park renaming now asks Council to make a similar exception for Silver. In his agenda item report for this Wednesday’s meeting, Mark Meadows explained his recommendation by saying, “Briefly stated, Sally has been an integral part of the fabric of this neighborhood since 1976, constantly advocating for the preservation of it and commenting and providing information on hundreds of issues affecting the neighborhood. In addition she has advocated on neighborhood issues at the state, local and national levels and tirelessly given her time and energy to boards and commissions that address all of the neighborhood preservation issues impacting her, and other neighborhoods in EL and elsewhere.”

The Bailey park appears a particularly appropriate location for honoring Silver. When City Council discussed the possibility of selling the Bailey Community Center to developers in 2014 and 2015, Silver argued that such a move threatened to destabilize the community.

Some Council members responded that maintaining the building and the childcare program it offered was a financial burden on the city and its residents. Silver saw the Center as community “safeguard” with “programs that are likely to attract” people to the community. Silver ultimately advocated for the Capital Area Housing Partnership’s proposal, which Council accepted.

Silver still lives with her husband Brian in the Bailey neighborhood.

Stephens had floated the idea of honoring women, minorities

The recommendation from Meadows comes about a month after Mayor Pro Tem Aaron Stephens started talking openly about his interest in naming parks after women or people of color, asking people for ideas.

Stephens confirmed to ELi in February that he was bothered by East Lansing’s lack of diversity in park-naming and wanted to change this. However, he did not respond to a follow-up requesting further information.

Now Meadows has gotten out in front of Stephens’ plan with the nomination of a woman many see as a highly valued member of the East Lansing community.

Above: Sally Silver on her birthday in a photo from her family

The next step will be for Council to name an ad hoc committee to study the idea. In his application, Meadows has recommended that the committee consist of former mayor Doug Jester, Jim Liesman, Dana Watson, James Secor, and Alice Dreger.

Dreger says she cannot serve because Silver is a financial donor to ELi, the organization she runs, but says Silver has been an inspiration to her for many years and is excited at the possibility of this honoring of Silver.


This article was updated to include photos contributed by Brian Silver. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info