Small Town, Big Spirit

Downtown Mears takes up no more than perhaps six blocks of space. Even for a small town, it’s tiny. But its community spirit and pride could fill the state of Michigan.

Johnson Square Gazebo, Mears, MIRecently, the People Fund provided the Johnson Square Park Recreation Area Committee with a $5,000 grant for a well in the park.

Established in 1873, Mears is located in Oceana County’s Golden Township, home to the renowned Silver Lake Sand Dunes. Mears falls on a main thoroughfare from the dunes to Hart, the closest city. That brings a lot of people through, particularly during summer.

Capitalizing on that traffic is a well-attended Arts and Crafts Fair in downtown Johnson Square Park held the third Saturday each July. The park is also nearby to the William Field Memorial Hart-Montague Trail State Park. The trail, used mainly by bikers and hikers, spans 22.7 miles from Hart in Oceana County to Montague in Muskegon County. Trail users often stop at Johnson Square Park to relax and many visit the town’s two popular historic museums. The regional Friendship Ring Quilt Guild plans to hold their quilt show in the park next season.

To make Mears visitors feel welcome, volunteer members of the recreation committee worked for years to add features. They added a gazebo, parkJohnson Square Playscape, Mears, MI benches, and—more recently—a pavilion for events plus recreational sport facilities (shuffleboard, pickle ball, basketball, and a playscape kids’ area)—all free for public use.

“We need that well,” explains Recreation Committee volunteer Jerry Sparbeck. Besides water for park users and visitors, grass needs to be watered. The small town doesn’t have enough of a budget to foot the expense of a well installation.

Thanks to the People Fund grant, Johnson Square will have its well this summer, which will allow for development of more regular activities in the park.  

Johnson Square Pavilion-PickleballEleven local volunteers on the park committee (Dale and Janet Lathers, Carl and Mort Wiegand, Jerry and Sheila Sparbeck, Bruce and Deb Smith, John Grant, Morgan Worth, and April Wolfe) unselfishly put in long hours to make Mears a better place to live and play. Since they’ve seen firsthand what the program does, Sparbeck says, all are People Fund contributors. The park, its playscape, and sport facilities provide local youths with something to do in summer and after school other times of the year. Sparbeck notes a People Fund grant also made the playscape possible. 

“Really, (Johnson Square Park) simply would not be here without the People Fund,” Sparbeck states.   

Consider a stop in historic, charming Mears next time you’re in the Silver Lake sand dunes vicinity. If you’re a GLE member, also consider participating in the People Fund to help make little communities like Mears thrive. That’s just one part of what People Fund grants do with your small change.