With children’s shrieks of joy and laughter as background music, the Leadership Class of 2018 officially opened its Imagination Train play space April 21 at Oscar Frazier Park in Bluffton.
The construction and installation of the sturdy playground structure, with three sections that resemble an engine, cargo car and caboose, was the group project for this year’s class.
The Leadership Program, created by the Hilton Head Island-Bluffton Chamber of Commerce in 1985, was designed to cultivate local leaders through a series of experiences to learn about history, culture, economy and governance of the community.
One of the requirements of each year’s class is to implement a public service project that will benefit residents. Class members must find a way to fund the project, whether by donations or fundraising activities.
When this class of 22 Hilton Head and Bluffton residents was faced with the challenge, “We asked everyone to brainstorm and bring their ideas to the table,” said Melanie Thomas, one of the three members of the class’s executive committee.
It came to their attention that the Bluffton Rotary Club was interested in expanding the Field of Dreams at Oscar Frazier Park with additional playground equipment.
Class member Kenneth Frazier Jr., who is a son of Oscar Frazier, pitched the idea to the class. “We fell in love with the idea of doing something for the children of Bluffton,” Thomas said.
Then came the design and project implementation process. “We bounced around ideas like an octopus, oyster shell, crab, and some other Lowcountry themed ideas,” Thomas said. “We then started talking about the park’s namesake, Oscar Frazier Sr. He owned and operated a barbecue stand out of a red caboose in downtown Bluffton, so we wanted to install a caboose in the park to honor Oscar’s legacy. We laughed and joked that we couldn’t deliver a caboose without the train engine to ‘pull it,’ so we set a goal to raise enough funds to install a train, a car, and a caboose.”
Playing to the strengths of each class member – from land planning, design, finance, and organization to event planning, marketing, writing and sign making – the team set to work to make the train a reality.
Thanks to Tropical Storm Irma, they had only about seven months to complete the entire project.
Class members asked for donations and got commitments from local and national companies, as well as individuals. They also sold memorial pavers that were donated for a sidewalk at the park.
In all, the class raised more than $61,000, “the most funds any Leader-ship Class has ever raised,” Thomas said.
Bill Miles, president and CEO of the Hilton Head-Bluffton Chamber, said in his welcoming remarks, “I think it’s safe to say that in 33 years, the Leadership Class has left an indelible mark on our community, and it’s one we are really proud of.”
Previous projects in Bluffton have included the fire pit in the Promenade and the shrimp boat at Dubois Park.
Oscar Frazier Jr., representing the family, also spoke during the ceremony. He reminded those gathered about his father’s dedication to the children of Bluffton, and his commitment to coaching and mentoring.
Thomas credited the generosity of others. “There were many donors and sponsors who helped us bring the Imagination Train to life,” she said. “I’m sure you don’t have enough space to list them all, but we would like to thank each and every one who had a hand in making this project a huge success.”