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Truesdale remembered as community leader

Honored with Kirkwood Park legacy bench and Arbor Day tree

Posted: November 5, 2018 4:49 p.m.
Updated: November 6, 2018 1:00 a.m.
Martin L. Cahn/C-I

The late Mary Sue Truesdale’s family gathers around a Leader’s Legacy bench dedicated in her honor Friday at the fire department. City employees later installed the bench at Kirkwood Park. Next to the bench is a photograph of a tree also planted in her honor for Arbor Day. Truesdale family members on hand Friday included (front, from left) daughter Andrea Gibson; sister and brother-in-law Barbara and Woody Archie; daughter Carol Truesdale, who spoke during the ceremony; (second row) niece nieces Trina Drakeford, Lynn Drakeford and Cheryl Adamson; sister Louise Adamson; and (in back) son Reggie Truesdale.

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For the second time in two weeks, the Camden Fire Department served as the site of a Leader’s Legacy bench dedication due to pending inclement weather.

This time, though, the celebration included recognition of Arbor Day as the city dedicated not only a bench -- which was brought into the fire station -- but the planting of a tree, both in honor of long time Camden Parks and Trees Commission member Mary Sue Truedale. A large photograph of the tree, already planted at Kirkwood Park near Dusty Bend, appeared next to the bench prior to its installation at the park.

Mayor pro Tem Jeffrey Graham, once again standing in for Mayor Alfred Mae Drakeford who was out of town, read the official Arbor Day proclamation and noted that the this year’s Arbor Day tree had been planted in Truesdale’s honor. Graham said Truesdale served on the parks and trees commission for 12 years and listed out its accomplishments in improving not only Kirkwood Park, but parks across the city.

The double honor recognizes Truesdale’s strong advocacy for the park, being instrumental in many upgrades there, including to the concession stand, construction of a picnic shelter, reconstruction of the basketball courts, lights for those courts, playground equipment and landscaping.

“She was a pillar of the community and loved her neighborhood and helped coordinate the annual summer festival in Kirkwood Park,” Graham read from the proclamation. “So, this is our Arbor Day celebration … on behalf of all of you and Ms. Truesdale for her dedication. The tree was planted in a park I know I’ve seen change because of one person’s passion and dedication.”

Graham said that when he was campaigning for mayor a number of years ago, he was told to go see Truesdale.

“I was told that numerous times by all the neighbors. So I said, ‘Well, I better figure out who this is and figure out what I need to do.’ So, I went to that house and knocked on that door. And she said, ‘Young man, what are you doing here?’ And, from then on, we had a wonderful relationship,” Graham said.

Because of Truesdale, he said, the park improved immeasurably.

“This park, with trees, with beautiful benches, with lighting -- things like that matter. The way it looks, the way it feels,” Graham said. I can always remember going out and being invited to the (Kirkwood) festival and just thinking how great it was. The police were there, the firemen were all there, and they were all there because of the sense of community. The neighbors were there; everybody had a good time. My kids would go with me and they would see friends from school, they played on the playground and it felt like Camden should: a sense of community. And I know, for a fact, that Mary Sue Truesdale believed in community.”

Graham said Truesdale had such passion for the community that she didn’t just tell people what needed to be done, she got involved and helped make that desire a reality.

“I can’t say that for a lot of folks; it’s not the case, but she was one who said, ‘We need to do it, but I’ll do it with you.’ That is strong. That is a strong sense of family, a strong sense of community, and that matters,” Graham said.

He then thanked Truesdale’s fellow commissioners for what they do to enhance the community.

“This bench is a part of our community for all of us to use and to enjoy. This tree will provide shade for those many hot afternoons when we’re out there. But remember this: her passion, her love for our community, her dedication, commitment and hands-on service -- I’m proud of that because I was able to be part of that with her … this person has changed lives in this room and will continue to change lives by her inspiration and inspiring us to do more and do it better,” Graham concluded.

Hampton Wright, who also gave the invocation, spoke briefly after Graham, saying Truesdale essentially raised him as he grew up in the Kirkwood community. He said he is now involved with the park and recreational activities in the area.

“(That is) due to Ms. Truesdale, so I thank her for that, for seeing in me to carry on her legacy, and that’s what my plans are, to do that,” Wright said. “We hope that tree will grow as strong as the heart of Ms. Truesdale and how hard and diligently she worked in the community of Kirkwood and throughout the parks and recreation areas in the city of Camden.”

Wright said that whenever the Kirkwood festival was held, Truesdale was all in.

“We would have a committee -- Ms. Truesdale was the committee,” he said, eliciting laughter from the crowd. “What you didn’t do, she did. What you were supposed to do, she did. So, it was that way; she was a very hard worker, and she wanted things for the betterment not only the community of Kirkwood, but communities across the city of Camden.”

Truesdale’s daughter, Carol, also spoke. She said her family awarded her mother a “Purple Heart” in 2013 for her dedication to her family and community.

“We gave her a bracelet and it was in the shape of a heart; it was beautiful,” Carol Truesdale said. “The military Purple Heart is given to soldiers for their heroic sacrifices, and we thank God for our military. There are also other heroes that are deserving of Purple Heart recognition: our police, our firemen, 911 operators … just to name a few of the people. We decided to recognize our mother, Mary Sue Truesdale … so we got her that bracelet and she loved it. She was our hero.”

She said her family saw first-hand the sacrifices her mother made for her “family, friends, the neighborhood and this community, Kirkwood, the community she lived in, and never asked for anything in return.”

Carol Truesdale also said that although her mother never went to school for nursing, she took care of at least 10 people, nursing them through illnesses either until they got better or passed away.

“She was a counselor, she had advice for everybody. She cooked and delivered food to the elderly. She was queen of volunteering her services. She didn’t know what an Uber driver was, but she was, surely, the Uber driver back in her time, because she assisted everyone she could,” she said.

Carol Truesdale said her mother lived in Kirkwood all of her life and was proud to be a member of the community, even declining to move with members of her family to California. She closed by urging attendees to do one thing to honor her mother’s legacy.

“If you get the chance to get to help somebody, do so,” she said. “Whatever you can do in others’ lives -- give your time, your strength, your service, and your finances … do something to help somebody, because it’s just a joy being able to know that you assisted or made a difference in somebody’s life.”

Camden Urban Forester Liz Gilland, who works closely with the commission, said that while she didn’t know Truesdale well, she loved her “easy-going style.”

“She would come to our parks and trees meetings and sit quietly, and listen to what was going on around town and what we were doing here and there. And she’d say, ‘Liz, Kirkwood parks needs’ dot, dot, dot, and … make no mistake, she was a determined woman. This is the first time we’ve done a combined ceremony for a tree and a bench, so that speaks to her and her family,” Gilland said.

Gilland noted that the city has been able to celebrate being a Tree City U.S.A. for more than 30 years on Arbor Day. For this year, she said that the city decided to plant a live oak tree in Truesdale’s honor for the occasion.

“Live oaks are very strong wooded and I know that Mary Sue was a strong woman. She was gentle, but she was strong. Live oaks are durable against the storm and she certainly, I’ve heard, has weathered storms in taking care of other family members and just in all her volunteer work,” Gilland said. “As a live oak ages and grows, the branches become far reaching and stretch far from its trunk. And I know that Mary Sue touched very many people in her community, far and wide.”

At the end of the ceremony, attendees were asked to take at least one Arizona Cypress seedling to plant in Truesdale’s honor.

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