Bill and Marilynn Blankenbaker sit together on a bench recently at Dunkirk’s Webster-Depot Park. As members of the Dunkirk Beautification Committee the couple has been instrumental in organizing the park’s summer concert series. (The Commercial Review/Virginia Cline)
Bill and Marilynn Blankenbaker sit together on a bench recently at Dunkirk’s Webster-Depot Park. As members of the Dunkirk Beautification Committee the couple has been instrumental in organizing the park’s summer concert series. (The Commercial Review/Virginia Cline)
A couple from Dunkirk sat on a bench in a park, surrounded by the fruits of their labor.
It’s “one of our pet projects here,” Bill Blankenbaker remarked of Webster-Depot Park in downtown Dunkirk.
The park has been home to free, outdoor concerts, sponsored by the Dunkirk Beautification Committee, since 1999. Bill and his wife Marilynn have been involved with the committee since its inception.
This summer’s concert series kicked off June 11 with Jerry Jones performing, and another concert will be held Saturday.
When the committee was first formed, members began tackling the project of cleaning city streets and constructing brick signs with the message “Welcome to Dunkirk” on the north and south ends of town. The signs were funded through a grant by the late Donald Johnson.
“He just loved his home town,” Marilynn noted.
Members later built a pavilion at the park after the city took ownership of it again at the request of committee member Sybil Holloway. They  didn’t know exactly what the pavilion would used for.
The pavilion was built by volunteers, with the rafters donated. Dan Watson, Dunkirk resident and county engineer, and Bill did the carpentry work. The committee asked members of the Dunkirk Volunteer Department to help and they responded that day. The cement floor was poured in 1994, but the structure wasn’t completed until 1996.
Bricks were sold to help pay expenses and made into a patio at the park with donor’s names engraved on them.
“Anything to make a buck,” Bill joked.
Marilynn and Bill were inspired to have concerts in Dunkirk after attending one at Van Trees Park in Fort Recovery that they had learned about through the Jay County Arts Council (now Arts Place in Portland).
The concert featured German music and a German meal was held after.
“We just thought that was about the greatest thing we’d ever been to,” Marilynn remarked.
The couple invited friends from Dunkirk, including Judy Garr and Kenny Webster (the park’s namesake), to visit other concerts. and soon the group began meeting at Dunkirk Public Library. Bill and Marilynn, always giving credit to others, remarked that they were unable to attend the first meeting. The committee soon began holding concerts in the pavilion.
Being on the committee wasn’t the couple’s first joint effort. They have been the owners of Gaunt Jewelry Store in Dunkirk since 1983 when they purchased it from Betty and Willard Gaunt. The Gaunts were Bill and Marilynn’s neighbors and when they decided to sell, the Blankenbakers were their first choice since Marilynn had worked for Gaunt Jewelry since 1963 and Bill helped at the store at Christmas time. If they didn’t buy the business, the Gaunts were going to sell the building at an auction.
Marilynn and Bill felt it was important to maintain a jewelry store in Dunkirk, so they bought not only the store but the apartment above it, which they moved into in 1988.
“God willing. We did it, I don’t know how,” Bill said.
He then went to watchmaker’s school and enjoys spending time building clocks as well as flying model airplanes as a member of Prop Twisters model aviation club and is a model railroad enthusiast.
“You’ve got to have something to keep you active,” he said.
Bill also had an earlier work history at the store, but not when it was Gaunt Jewelry. A native of Dunkirk, he worked at the building as a teenager when it housed Ludwig’s Grocery Store. Marilynn came from Evansville to visit family every summer in Dunkirk since she was seven years old. She met Bill at Ludwigs when they were 17. The couple will celebrate their 60th anniversary on Nov. 11, which they noted will be 11-11-11.
Bill and Marilynn also enjoy attending church together at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dunkirk.
“We have a great faith in God, if it wasn’t for God I don’t know what we’d do,” said Marilynn.
Others the couple generously give credit to are Karen Williams who plants flowers at the park and Kenneth Hartnagel has done the landscaping for many years. The late Betty Addington donated a flag pole and Julie Elzroth helped with the design of the pavilion to match the old depot that sits at the park. Judy Garr “holds everybody together,” the couple commented. Marilynn has stepped down as treasurer and the position has been taken over by GayAnn Rife. Bill will continue to be the emcee at the concerts with the help of Chuck Rife. The couple wants the concerts to continue when they take a less active role.
“You’ve got to teach someone else,” Bill said.
They also sent letters out to people in the community asking if they would like to volunteer and got a lot of positive response.
Local businesses and sororities volunteer their time to sell food beginning at 6:30 p.m. An area grocery store donates the meat and buns and a pantry in Dunkirk donates ice.
Concerts are made possible in part through a grant from The Portland Foundation and other donations. The Chelsea House Orchestra will play Saturday, the Trojan Band on June 25, Jay County Community Band on July 2, the Classics on July 9, the Servants of Christ on July 16, Jay Fox on July 23, Mix Factory on July 30, T n B (Tim and Betty Resler) on Aug. 6, Jerry and Judy Cole, with clowns Buttnz and Bowz on Aug. 13 and Spittin’ Image on Aug. 20.
All concerts begin at 7 p.m.
Remembering other concerts through the years, Bill recalled Jay Fox playing a concert when a train came through town (the tracks are located directly behind the pavilion) and Jay immediately changed his song to “Chattanooga Choo Choo.
“(They) go with the flow,” Bill laughed.     
“We’ve made a lot of good friends over the years here,” Bill said fondly.
“It’s been fun down here,” Marilynn added.