2016-11-18 / Front Page

City to name park after Sam DiPietro

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Sam DiPietro Sam DiPietro SOUTH PORTLAND — Sometimes, South Portland City Councilors agreed unanimously at their Nov. 14 meeting, direction doesn’t need to come from a formal policy. Sometimes, it’s obvious when a thing is simply, “the right thing to do.”

At a workshop session Monday, the council agreed to rename the green space bounded by Pillsbury Street, Davis Street and Cottage Road in honor of Santo “Sam” DiPietro, the founder of DiPietro’s Market

— located across Cottage Road from the site. DiPietro died Oct. 9 at the age of 81.

“Absolutely 100 percent a wonderful idea. It’s a great honor. He deserves it,” said resident Russ Lunt.

Formerly the site of the Willard Elementary School, the triangular lot was named Willard School Park by the council in 1980. Councilor Linda Cohen and Mayor Tom Blake jointly proposed rechristening it in honor of DiPietro.

“This isn’t something that we’ve done a lot of,” Cohen said. “It’s something that we’ve always sort of reserved for someone we thought was really extraordinary.”

The short list of similar dedications include Ge Erskine Drive and Ge Erskine Park, both in Knightville, named for 30-year city employee and long time public works director Ge Erskine, and Wallingford Drive, near Bug Light Park, named for Robert Wallingford, who died while fighting a fire at Portland Welding Co. in 1996.

DiPeitro, a first generation American whose parents immigrated to Portland from Italy, founded the South Portland store in 1972 and, soon after, helped co-found the South Portland Boys & Girls Club. He was on the city council for nine years, including a term as mayor in 1982- 1983, and then went on to serve as a Democrat in the state Legislature from 1989 to 1996.

Apart from being famous for a quick smile punctuated by an ever-present cigar, and a hearty willingness to engage all comers as long-lost friends on topics of the day, from politics to work, family and sports, DiPietro also was a lover of the greens, both in terms of the golf lings and open spaces. According to Blake, it was during his inaugural address as mayor that DePietro suggested creation of a Greenbelt Committee, which eventually led to creation of the city’s Greenbelt Pathway.

One member of the audience at Monday’s workshop, planning board member Adrian Dowling, asked if the city had a policy for naming parks and other spaces. He’d once been turned down when offering to buy and dedicate a park bench, he said, because the parks and recreation department head “said we had enough already.”

Blake and Cohen said that apart from a policy created after the Vietnam War to name new public streets after city residents who lost their lives while in military service, there was no formal policy in place for naming parks. Blake said a new open space committee is expected to craft such guidelines “over the next year,” but none on the council felt a need to wait on a written direction in DiPietro’s case.

“He really became a legend in the community. We don’t really have a policy, but sometimes your gut just sort of tells you when it’s the right thing to do,” Cohen said.

Although the new designation will mean striking the current official name of the park, many on the council felt Willard gets its due already.

“Not counting this park, we actually have five things on the east end of our town named Willard already,” Blake said, pointing to Willard Beach, Willard Square, Willard Street and Willard Haven Road, in addition to the entire Willard neighborhood.

Others on the council noted that, when referred to by name at all, the space is most often referred to by locals as DiPietro Park, or Sammy’s Park anyway.

“There is a playground there and, for most people, kids and parents, it’s just ‘the park,’” Councilor Claude Morgan said. “This, I think, will give it some identity.”

“I feel very fortunate I knew Sam,” Councilor Maxine Beecher said, applauding the name change as a memorial tribute to DiPietro. “He loved children, hence the Boys & Girls Club – or the Boys Club, as it was then known – so, why not a children’s park?”

The DiPietro family is expected to be on hand at the Monday, Nov. 21 council meeting for the official vote renaming the park. An official ceremony will be held on site in the spring, Blake said, by which time it’s hoped enough money can me raised to erect a memorial recognizing DiPietro’s contributions to the South Portland community.

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