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City Council ensures that Ray Ellerbrook Athletic Fields will always be used for recreation

NORTHAMPTON — It’s been five years, but Tom Parent still remembers the long pause when he called the late Ray Ellerbrook to let the city’s longtime recreation director know the fields off Burts Pit Road that he worked so hard to build would bear his name.

“I had the feeling on the phone that he was choked up, and Ray doesn’t get choked up,” said Parent, a longtime member of the Recreation Commission. “This field is something he fought for.”

Ellerbrook, a 27-year director of the city’s Recreation Department, died on Sept. 18 at the age of 65 after a 10-year battle with cancer. On Sept. 23, the community gathered at the Ray Ellerbrook Athletic Fields to pay tribute to a man whose name was synonymous with recreation.

The City Council Thursday took one final step in commemorating Ellerbrook by unanimously approving an order that permanently protects the area for recreational use.

“I feel fairly confident that the most appropriate use of this is a recreation field in honor of Ray Ellerbrook,” Mayor David J. Narkewicz told the council.

The seeds of the renovation project were sown in the 1990s. With help from former state Rep. William P. Nagle Jr., Ellerbrook secured a Massachusetts Turnpike Authority grant, then worked with retired Gen. George Keefe, who arranged for some of the property to be cleared by the National Guard. The city’s Department of Public Works finished the project.

Known only as Parcel C, the area was once part of the former Northampton State Hospital. The fields opened in 2006 and are home to lacrosse, soccer and baseball and softball leagues.

“Rarely do we have an opportunity to vote on something that makes so much sense,” City Council President William H. Dwight said.

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