The following guest column was submitted by Luke Blakeslee, a member of the Milford Kiwanis.

Sift through your family photo albums from the last 20, 30, 40, even 50 years and chances are pretty good you’ll come across a picture of someone in your family enjoying a sunny day at Waubee Lake Park in Milford.

Now, look closely. While the faces, scenery and seasons have changed, you’ll see that the playground has remained mostly, if not completely, unchanged: a towering metal slide with a dozen kids piled up at the bottom, a skyscraper jungle gym, a speedy merry-go-round serving up skinned knees and dirty tank tops and perfectly lazy swings on long chains.

Some folks in Milford remember putting wax paper on the slide to make it even faster, and the old rule that girls weren’t allowed to play unless they had shorts on under their dresses. Remember those days?

While it’s fun to reminisce, Joellen Free, town clerk of Milford, noticed last summer that over the years the famous equipment had deteriorated little by little to the point that it needed more than just a facelift. It needed replaced.

“The equipment was in rough shape and was almost an eyesore at an otherwise beautiful park,” says Free. “My friends and I used to play on the playground as little girls, but at that time it was still at the old Milford school. It occurred to me that if we could raise enough money we could do something that should have been done a long time ago.”  

She would soon find out just how much money – nearly $80,000. Free immediately began the daunting task of filling out grant applications. “Our community is so blessed to have organizations like K21 Health Foundation and Dekko Foundation,” she says. “Our project needed the jumpstart from their donations in order to really get going.” After receiving a matching fund offer from K21, Free applied for and received a grant from Dekko, Phend & Brown, Milford Kiwanis and an out-of-the-blue anonymous donor.

“On my birthday last August,” says Free, “I was introduced to a stranger in town looking for a good cause he could support. I told him how much money we still needed and he cut a check right then. It was a wonderful miracle!”  

With the funds fully raised, work began last fall and winter with the brand new equipment installed during the first week of December. “It was the coldest weekend of the year but they were out there working hard for us. We couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out.”

On June 10, on behalf of all who dedicated time, money, and energy to the project, Free and the Town of Milford, as well as the Milford Kiwanis and K21 Health Foundation, invite the entire Kosciusko County community to a Day at the Lake Festival to help dedicate the new equipment and kick off another summer at Waubee Lake Park. The Festival will follow the third annual Milford Kiwanis 5K Run/Walk, and will include hot food and cold soft drinks for sale, as well as games and activities for the whole family.

The Kiwanis 5K will be one of the first ways the public will be able to enjoy the new playground. After following scenic trails near beautiful Camp Mack and Waubee Lake, runners will finish the race back at the park where the festival will await them. “We’re so excited about this year’s event,” says Kiwanis race director Paula Stokes. “We’ll have runners of all ages, and this year we’re introducing a $50 cash prize to the overall male and female winners.”

The 5K is just one fundraiser organized by the Kiwanis. The proceeds will allow the club to contribute toward various charitable organizations in the Milford area, like New Beginnings Childcare, Harvest with a Heart, Boomerang Backpacks and Riley Children's Hospital, as well as special projects at Milford school, to name just a few. Like the new playground, the other causes supported by the club are centered on helping children in the community.

“That’s why all are welcome to the 5K and Day at the Lake,” continues Stokes. “Run or walk for fun, then celebrate a new playground with food and games, all while contributing toward a good cause. It’s a perfect way to spend a Saturday in June.”  

The 5K will begin at 9 a.m., with the Festival wrapping up when all the burgers are sold! Sign up for the race at, or call 574-658-4073 for race and donation information. Don’t miss it!