Before it became Building and Trades Park, and even before local kids swam in “The Blue Hole,” the lot just off Second and Rogers streets was a bustling limestone quarry teaming with stonecutters.
“You can just imagine what working conditions would’ve been like here,” Bloomington Mayor Mark Kruzan said, standing before a crowd of union officials and community members in that park Monday evening.
He was there for a Workers’ Memorial Day event to dedicate the latest in a series of development efforts to turn Building and Trades Park into a memorial for local workers, particularly those who have been injured or killed on the job.
“It’s too often forgotten in the politics of today,” Kruzan said. “In improving working conditions and wages, unions are as necessary today as they were then.”
Workers’ Memorial Day, celebrated each year on April 28, is a national remembrance of laborers who have died and the founding of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to OSHA’s website.
In Bloomington this year, the event was marked with the unveiling of an interpretive sign in the park that explains the history of local industrial workers, the quarry that used to sit in its place and the surrounding Prospect Hill Neighborhood.
“We’ve had a dream of a workers memorial for years, and it’s started to fall into place,” said Jackie Yenna, president of White River Central Labor Council of AFL-CIO. “We’re trying to do something each Workers’ Memorial Day to honor fallen workers.”
Together, the city, White River Central Labor Council and the Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association have installed the interpretive sign, a mural depicting various trades and two 2,500-pound limestone benches carved by Bloomington artist Dale Enochs. One bench is inscribed with “In honor of all workers” and the other reads “To good neighbors,” a testament to the community of unions and residents that have developed Building and Trades Park.
“It’s been a community project, really,” Yenna said.
For the unveiling, the labor council and the neighborhood association brought in Kruzan, Bloomington Parks and Recreation Director Mick Renneisen and Ron Simko from the Indiana Occupational Safety Standards Commission.
Their message was one of the community banding together to continue building the park. They spoke about volunteers from IU Health Bloomington Hospital across the street from the park, neighborhood families painting the mural and donors helping make the massive limestone benches and new sign possible.
“The timing was right for a workers memorial and also for the neighborhood and community,” said Cynthia Bretheim, Prospect Hill Neighborhood Association president.
But overarching all of that was the day’s initial purpose: to remember fallen workers.
“This is a truly awesome display, right here, of community support,” Yenna said. “Remember working men and women every time you come in here. Remember them because they’re the people that strive to build this country up, and a lot of them have died doing that.”
Then the sign was unveiled and the band began to play.
“We have laid the wide foundations, built it skyward stone by stone,” the old workers’ song goes. “It is ours, not to slave in, but to master and to own. While the union makes us strong.”