Friends of Mary Grogan remembered her Monday as a woman with a passion for parks and for trees that grace Modesto streets.
Grogan, who died Sunday at 82, was the city's director of parks and recreation from 1963 to 1992.
During her tenure, the city bought land for 35 parks and completed numerous projects, including the King-Kennedy Memorial Center and Creekside Golf Course.
Grogan helped launch the Tuol- umne River Regional Park and advocated for street trees in new subdivisions.
"You see the trees, you see Mary," said longtime friend Paul Baxter, a former deputy city manager.
"The quality of life here has a great deal of Mary Grogan in it," former Mayor Carol Whiteside said.
Grogan, who grew up in the mountains east of Fresno, came to Modesto in 1951 as a playground supervisor. She rose to recreation superintendent in 1954.
With her appointment as director nine years later, she was one of just two women leading city park departments in California.
Ray Simon, who was elected to the Modesto City Council in 1967, said Grogan faced skepticism among city leaders about her proposal for street trees.
She persevered, he said, and the result is a variety of now-mature trees that give something of "a Vermont look" to the neighborhoods.
Simon also cited Grogan's idea of putting parks next to schools so children do not have to go far to play.
"Modesto is much better off because of Mary Grogan," said Simon, who went on to work on the river park as a Stanislaus County supervisor. "For me, she is the core of every good thing in this city."
Saving McHenry Mansion
In the mid-1970s, Grogan worked to stop the demolition of the McHenry Mansion, an 1883 pioneer home on 15th Street. It was preserved with the help of the Julio Gallo Foundation, named for a co-founder of E.&J. Gallo Winery in Modesto.
"She contributed so many wonderful things to this community," said Marie Gallo, a friend of Grogan and daughter-in-law of Julio Gallo. "She was passionate about beautifying this community."
Gallo praised Grogan for park designs that turned flat ground into rolling landscapes.
Whiteside, who was elected mayor in 1987, said Grogan often acquired park sites years before money was available for landscaping, playground equipment and other features.
This strategy allowed the city to get the land at low cost and "bank" it until needed, Whiteside said.
Today, Modesto is among the Central Valley's leaders in park acreage per capita, said Whiteside, founding president of the Great Valley Center.
Whiteside also recalled the doubts about street trees, specifically whether Grogan's chosen species could thrive in Modesto.
"Then she showed people the ginkgos and pistaches and other trees that I think really are her legacy," Whiteside said.
A parks 'powerhouse'
Grogan served as president of the California Park and Recreation Society in 1972 and 1973 and as president of the National Recreation and Park Association in 1982 and 1983.
"Mary was a state and national powerhouse in the park and recreation business," said Jim Niskanen, who was hired as Modesto's assistant director in 1990 and went on to the top post.
Grogan described her approach to park planning in a 1992 interview with The Bee: "You have to be willing to plant a tree under which you may never stand."
Grogan got to see many of the results of her efforts.
"Every once in a while, I drive around the town and just go from park to park," she said.
"I'll see a park filled with children playing. It makes me feel good because I realize I had something to do with that."
Legacies in the area
Grogan's name is in a grove in the river park, which is still being developed along a seven-mile stretch.
A 40-acre park planned next to Enochs High School also will bear her name.
Grogan was a leader in several community groups, including the Girl Scouts, The Salvation Army and United Crusade.
She is survived by a sister, Dorothy Grogan; sister-in-law, Agnes Grogan; nephew, Michael Grogan; and niece, Pat Reese.
She was preceded in death by her brothers, William Grogan and Robert Grogan.
A funeral Mass will be at 10 a.m. Friday at Our Lady of Fatima Church, 505 W. Granger Ave., Modesto. A private burial will follow in Fresno.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2385.