FOREST PARK — In 1963, Elaine Corley started a journey that would see her build a small town’s recreation program into an empire that helped swimmers like Steve Lundquist and Mark Spitz go on to earn Olympic gold, Hines Ward secure a career in the National Football League, and thousands of children play organized sports. Many of those children now have children and grandchildren in the programs that Corley developed over the years.
“What we now refer to as Starr Park was a swamp with snakes, open ditches, and a swimming pool,“ Corley said at her June 25 retirement party.
“Every year I begged (State) Sen. (Terrell) Star for $10,000,“ she said. “I did that for six straight years. I took that $60,000 that he gave me, and step by step, developed Starr Park, with a drawing I had done on a yellow tablet because we couldn’t afford an architect. And then, I went to Clorox, and I begged Clorox for the first playground developed in Starr Park. I received another $10,000 grant. Thus came the development of Starr Park.“
But by bit, Corley added to the park, which she said is “probably one of the most popular parks in metro (Atlanta) because of its convenience, because of its facilities and because of the beauty that you see.“ But, she added, “I couldn’t have done it without my staff. I had the most wonderful staff and still do. ... they worked as hard, if not harder, than I did.“
Corley who started her career in Griffin five years before Forest Park called her, has been in charge of festivals, garage sales, sports programs, races, facility upgrades, camps and recreation activities for over half a century.
On July 1, the City Council presented Corley with a signed proclamation thanking her for her years of service as director of the Forest Park Recreation Center. Councilmembers and citizens lauded her, with several calling for her name to be restored to the center she had built from the ground up.
During the public comment period, several people got up to call for Corley’s name to be placed back on the center.
“I want to thank Miss Corley for everything she’s done for the city of Forest Park and the residents,“ said Connie Robbin. “She will be missed by everyone at the Senior Center. Not a single member of the council or the mayor will ever do as much for us as she has.“
Patricia Johnson, a Senior Center regular, told the council, “I’m here for the councilmen to know: this lady right here, she’s been a model person to me. When I first come to the Senior Center, I didn’t have a family. And the seniors and her, they let me know that I was where a family could be. And Miss Corley, I want you to know, regardless of whatever happens in your life, darling, we miss you at the Senior Center. We miss you at Forest Park and I love you so much, and I hope you don’t forget about us, because we love you, we miss you, and we wish y’all would do something very nice for her because the day I saw that name up on the building, the next day when I saw it down, I thought I would pass out.“
On Jan. 2, 2018, the council voted 3-2 to remove Corley’s name from the rec center at 803 Forest Pkwy. At the time, Councilwoman Kimberly James said she thought the center should not be named after a living person. That vote followed a 3-2 vote to remove Frank Brandon’s name from the community center and name it for the late community activist Leonard Hartsfield Sr.
James, along with Councilmembers Latresa Wells, Allan Mears, Dabouze Antoine and Sandra Bagley and City Manager Angela Redding, praised Corley for her years of service and thanked her for the programs that they or their children or grandchildren have taken part in.
Wells went one better, saying she would call not only to restore Corley’s name to the rec center but also for a street to be named in her honor.
“This is home to me,“ Corley said. “I truly love Forest Park with all of my heart. Always have. Always will.“
Listen to Corley’s remarks, including some park history, at her retirement party: https://bit.ly/2XDtHgj.