JOHNSTON CITY -- More than 200 citizens representing at least a half dozen communities gathered in Johnston City Wednesday morning to dedicate the Mike Dean Memorial Playground and Park.
Some knew Mike well, while others, like the first- and second-graders from Jefferson School, never met him.
"It's good to see his name on a sign," said Mike's lifelong friend, Adam Cargal. "People might ask who Mike Dean was ... now we can keep that memory going."
Mike Dean was killed in a tragic car accident in 2006. At the time he was living in Benton, teaching at Sesser-Valier High School and broadcasting Marion and Johnston City high school sports on WGGH.
For Williamson County State's Attorney Brandon Zanotti, seeing the park named for his friend is "fantastic."
"This is the park we played in and rode our bikes around as kids," he said. "I'm so impressed with what Jimmy and Donette were able to do."
Jimmy and Donette Dean, Mike's parents, raised money to help the city refurbish the park and its well-aged playground.
Johnston City Police Chief Will Stark proposed the rehab in 2017, but thought it would take several more years.
"I'm thankful to Jimmy and the Dean family for what they've done," he said.
The Deans were asked to raise $15,000 in exchange for naming the park for Mike. They raised $32,000, not counting a $2,500 donation that came in just days before the dedication.
Jimmy told the crowd the money will be used to build covered benches where parents can sit in the shade to watch their children play.
Stark, who said the city has raised about $13,000 on its own, said the next phase will include a basketball area and character-themed spring riding toys, among other small additions.
The next fundraiser will be the "Touch a Truck" event from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sept. 14 in the park.
Marion Mayor Mike Absher, who came to the celebration, got a laugh when Jimmy began his speech by announcing, "We won't be annexing Marion today."
Absher said he had "participated a little bit" in the fundraising.
"I wanted to see the outcome," he said. "It's a terrific park. I'm sure the kids are going to enjoy it and you can see by the support here that the town will, as well."
Franklin County Circuit Clerk Jim Muir came to the dedication "in memory of Mike Dean." Muir said he and Jimmy have been friends "for as long as either of us cares to remember."
Muir said that while others knew Mike as a student, an athlete, a friend, or teacher, his memories are of Mike as a broadcaster.
Like Cargal and Zanotti, many in the crowd were childhood friends of Mike.
Marion attorney Meagan Rich remembers Mike as funny. "We were on the math team together," she said. "I was older than him and drove him around."
Patti Zanotti, Brandon's mother, said her family considered Mike like a member of the family. "We miss him everyday," she said.
Retired teacher Linda Miles didn't have Mike in school, "but Lewie did," she said, referring her husband, also a retired teacher. "Every time we saw him out anywhere he always came over to talk and say hello. He was a sweet and friendly person."
Fundraising a true community effort
Mike's niece, Ella, a first-grader at Jefferson School, cut the ribbon for the new park as Mayor Doug Dobbins declared it open.
Johnston City Schools Superintendent Kathy Clark watched over several elementary students as they tried out the new equipment.
"It's just amazing that a community can come together to make something this beautiful in the middle of town," she said.
In his address, Jimmy noted that the project was a true community effort. "Small towns can get things done when they work together," he said.
He acknowledged the Johnston City street department who did the landscaping, and the students from the John A. Logan College Center for Workforce Development who put together the equipment.
Jimmy Dean said donations are still welcome. Contact Dean at (618) 889-5797 or the Johnston City clerk or treasurer at (618) 983-6651.
For Donette Dean, seeing the park is bittersweet. "It means I'm proud," she said.
Perhaps the most poignant words came from Mike's former high school teacher, Tim Kee, who was manning his class of second-graders.
"It's nice to see that something good can come out of something so difficult," he said.