Two stadiums — an amphitheater and a baseball field — were dedicated Saturday at Douglass Park to honor three locals who sought for decades to gather blacks and whites into one audience.
And in the neighborhood park near where they grew up, they got their congregation.
More than 150 people of all ages and colors packed the lawn surrounding the Wynna Faye Tapp-Elbert Memorial Amphitheater and the John and Rod Kelly Baseball Field.
“What we all should desire is that the life that we live makes the world a better place after we’re gone,” said First Ward City Councilman Clyde Ruffin, who spoke at both ceremonies. “So it is befitting that we are here today to celebrate Wynna Faye Tapp-Elbert as well as the amazing Kelly brothers, because what we’re discovering today at this great celebration is their living has not been in vain.”
The ceremonies, hosted by Columbia Parks and Recreation, took place amid the Heritage Day Block Party. City Manager Mike Matthes and Deputy City Manager JJ Musgrove, along with representatives from local agencies like the Columbia Fire Department and the Daniel Boone Regional Library, were present.
The paths of Tapp-Elbert and the Kelly brothers converged many decades ago when John Kelly and Tapp-Elbert attended what was then the all-black Douglass School, and when the brothers worked for Columbia Public School District and Tapp-Elbert worked for Columbia Parks and Recreation.
For Tapp-Elbert, social advocacy began early. While in high school, she took part in a sit-in at the Minute Inn, which at the time didn’t serve black people. She earned two degrees from Stephens College and helped build an archive of local African-American history while earning a master’s degree from MU.
Tapp-Elbert worked with Columbia Parks and Recreation for 30 years. During this time, she asked the Kellys to make baseball affordable for neighborhood kids, so the brothers helped found the Douglass Bulldog Baseball League in 1996, earning them the title of “baseball brothers”.
John Kelly was an assistant principal at Hickman High School for 20 years before retiring in 1997. His younger brother, Rod Kelly, was also an educator and a longtime sportsman; he became a voice of local athletics, including Mizzou basketball, serving as a sports broadcaster for 47 years.
Although Tapp-Elbert died in 2014 from complications relating to diabetes, and Rod Kelly was unable to attend the ceremony, John Kelly, 75, came to pitch not his own story, but the baseball league’s. The league, for boys and girls from ages 5 to 10, is both a recreational opportunity and an education, he said.
It’s also an opportunity for neighborhood kids to learn where they’ve come from, and to be equal. Regardless of their skill set or build, they can play, said Mike Harvey, president of the Douglass Athletic Association.
“Much of (Columbia’s) history is rooted in the struggle for equality, acceptance, civil rights, social justice,” Ruffin said during the baseball field’s dedication ceremony. “Days like today, when I can look around and see people from all walks of life, all backgrounds, all levels of education, who’ve gathered in this historic park from all parts of the city — it makes me believe that it is possible to celebrate the City of Columbia as an amazing place to live,” Ruffin said.
Supervising editor is Tynan Stewart.