Hartford’s “No Name Park” may soon be nameless no more. City Councilman Ken Kennedy, State Representative Matt Ritter and others are leading a drive to rename the park in honor of long-time activist Darrell Garner, who passed away last month at the age of 78.
“No-Name Park” lies off Sisson Avenue, behind the fire station, and was originally cleared to store construction equipment during the building of the Sisson Avenue highway entrance/exit.
In 2000, Garner was instrumental in developing the area into a small park for youths in the West End and Parkville who were not within easy walking distance of Elizabeth Park or Pope Park. Recently, he and his daughter, Deborah, Executive Director of the West End Community Center, led a research project conducted by teens at the center that was designed to give greater recognition and improved maintenance at the park.
But Garner’s activist past stretches back even further – to the turbulent 1960s and the African American struggle for Civil Rights.
A native of the Pittsburgh area, he was a star athlete at Monongahela High School. He was accepted into the University of Pittsburgh but was drafted by the U.S. Army before his freshman year and served with the 82nd Airborne Division during the Korean War. Garner became seriously involved in the Civil Rights movement while living in New York City during the 1950s. He came to Hartford in 1957, on what was originally intended to be a brief visit. He decided to extend his stay after finding a job on his first day in the city. Garner soon met two men who would become lifelong friends, the late State Senator Wilbur Smith and Arthur Johnson. Based primarily on the advice of these two men, he decided to remain in Hartford and work toward improving the lives of its residents, particularly those in the African-American community.
In 1966, Garner got a job as a community worker for the Betty Knox Foundation and started Stowe Village Boys Club in a basement space donated by the Hartford Housing Authority. As the decade progressed, he became the national community organizer for the Northeast Region and also served as community mediator during the riots that rocked the city in the late 1960s.
Garner was elected “Man of the Month” by Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1970. Two years later, he threw his hat into the ring in the race for State Representative (4th Assembly District). Unfortunately, he decided to withdraw his candidacy due to serious family and financial matters.
Garner then went to works as the director of the Housing and GED?Programs at the Community Renewal Team (CRT). In 1975 he was named Resident Manager and Administrator of South Arsenal Neighborhood Development (SAND) Housing.
In 1976, Garner began working with four interns from Trinity College, one of whom was future Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.
After much struggle, Garner, Perez and many others founded ONE/CHANE, an organization devoted to uniting North Hartford. During the 1970s, Garner was also co-host of the hard-hitting radio talk show, “What’s On Your Mind,” that took an unvarnished look at current events in the city.
In the mid 1980s, Garner decided to enter the private sector and co-founded the construction company Garner, Pantano and Shelton, LLC. He ended his construction career with Rainbow Roofing and Supply Company, which employed many Hartford residents on major projects throughout the city.
After suffering a back injury and being stricken with cancer, Garner moved to Hartford’s West End for what he initially believed would be a quiet retirement. However, he soon became involved in the community again, joining the West End Civic Association in 1998 and becoming President of the Shepherd Park Tenants’ Association the following year. It was around this time that he began pushing to bring a park to the southern section of the West End. As an outgrowth of that effort, he founded the West End Community Center (WECC) in 2002, and continued to serve the organization with advice and encouragement into his last days.
Darrell Garner passed away on Sunday, July 21, at St. Francis Hospital. He is survived by two daughters, Patricia "Patti" Garner of Pennsylvania and Deborah Garner (Jawhar Felton) of Hartford; two sons, Darrell S. Garner (Candice) and James E. Garner of Hartford; two brothers, Robert Garner and Leroy Garner; a sister, Carol Lamar; Patricia, beloved mother of Deborah, Darrell Jr. and James; a devoted friend, Alicia Gamble. He was predeceased by a daughter, Debbie. He was the son of the late Thomas and Lulleen Garner.