By Ed Wendell
Now that spring is here, countless people will be taking advantage of the good weather to take walks through Forest Park.
And is there a more beautiful spot in town than Strack Pond? Since it’s not entirely visible from the road through the park (and completely hidden from Woodhaven Boulevard), you can be forgiven for not knowing where it is.
Strack Pond sits directly across (and below) the Bandshell and the Forest Park Carousel, at the bottom of a deep depression left behind by glacial movement over 20,000 years ago.
Over the course of our history, that spot has always been a pond – except for a brief period of time when it had been filled in an ill-fated attempt to create baseball fields.
So now you know where it is and a bit about its history. Where did the name Strack come from?
As a young boy during the early 1960s, Lawrence Strack played baseball for a lot of local little leagues including the Cypress Hills Bombers, the Little Fellers League and Rich-Haven Little League.
Lawrence joined the Army and went through basic and paratrooper training in Georgia. He returned home before shipping out to Vietnam to marry his childhood sweetheart, Theresa Shannon of Woodhaven.
He began his tour in Vietnam in November 1966 as a Private and died in combat on March 3, 1967.
When the city converted this pond (which was unnamed for all those many years) into a pair of ballfields, American Legion Post 118 in Woodhaven petitioned to get them named after Strack.
Although Strack never played on those ballfields, he did ice skate on the pond that was there.
“Lawrence Strack lived in the tradition of American Youth and was an avid sports fan and participant,” the resolution read. “In the true tradition of an American, Lawrence made the supreme sacrifice that any American can make for his Community and Country when he gave up his life in Vietnam.”
Much was made of the fact that Lawrence Strack played on local ballfields as a boy, but it was also noted that Private First Class Lawrence Strack was not far removed from being a boy himself when he was killed.
Lawrence Strack was only 18 years old.
Just before the second anniversary of his death, legislation passed through the City Council and the new field was dedicated as PFC Lawrence George E. Strack Memorial Field.
However, the fields themselves would be short-lived. They sat at the bottom of this natural depression in the ground, one that had housed a pond for many years, and it held on to any water it received. Even a small rain could cause the field to get muddy and after a heavy rainstorm, it could take days to recover.
During the late 1970s, the fields were badly damaged by vandals. Over the winter, some drove their automobiles over the field, through the mud. By the time teams showed up for their first practice a few months later, all of the deep grooves in the mud were rock solid.
Assemblyman Frederick D. Schmidt came up with a solution, arranging to have a fire truck at the top of the hill connect to a hydrant and soak the field. Once it was muddy again, the coaches and managers did their best to rake it smooth.
It was playable, but no one who ever played on that field trusted a ground ball.
The ballfields were eventually converted back to a natural pond in a project that took two years to complete. When PFC Lawrence Strack Memorial Pond was opened to the public in May 2004, his family attended the dedication.
Since then, Strack Pond has become one of the more beautiful and most photographed locations in Woodhaven. It is very popular with hikers and bird watchers.
It is a beautiful spot, a great place to enjoy nature and the steep hill is a small price to pay for that kind of peace and tranquility. For although Woodhaven Boulevard is just a stone’s throw away, you can hardly hear it.
Take a walk and enjoy the peace and quiet and remember the young man — a boy really — whose all too short life ended so violently.