Wyoming High School grad and Olympic medalist David Payne will be honored along with his grandparents Ruth and James Payne and their long-time neighbors, Vera and Leonard Chenault, in a dedication ceremony March 22 from 3 to 4 p.m. in the green space across from Crosley and Oak avenues. A bench donated by the families will eventually be installed in what will become David Payne Park.
A hometown hero after his 2008 silver medal in the Beijing Olympics, David Payne has racked up numerous accomplishments during his track and field career, starting in his junior year at Wyoming High School in 1998 where years earlier his mother Cynthia had excelled in track. He went on to become an All American at the University of Cincinnati, eventually being inducted into the UC Athletic Hall of Fame. He also earned a bronze medal in the 2007 World Championships, a silver medal in the 2007 Pan Am Games, and a gold medal at the 2007 IAAF Diamond League Super Grand Prix.
Family and Friends Played an Important Role in the Community
While David’s achievements are well known, many living in Wyoming today do not know that David’s roots here go back several generations. His grandparents, Ruth and James Payne, and their neighbors and friends, Vera and Leonard Chenault, worked behind the scenes for many years to create a safe neighborhood and play area for their children and the other families who lived along Oak Avenue. They took it upon themselves to steward the green space that is today known as Little Oak Park where the Hike/Bike Trail now extends.
To honor their deceased parents, the Payne and Chenault families are donating the new bench to the City of Wyoming. Nearby will stand a plaque recognizing David’s track career, and Little Oak Park will be officially re-named David Payne Park.
Payne and Chenault Families Close Friends, Community Leaders
Vera and Leonard Chenault lived on Crosley Avenue for decades beginning in the 1940s and before then elsewhere in Wyoming. Ruth and James Payne moved from Burns Avenue into a house on Oak Avenue in the 1960s, says Marilyn Duke, daughter of Ruth and James Payne and David’s aunt. The Paynes and Chenaults, two doors apart, shared much in common, including a devotion to the safety and enjoyment of their homes and the area.
This was the early Civil Rights era. Segregation was widely practiced. Duke says African American youth may have felt unwelcome in other parks, but the green space along Oak Avenue was a playground for all. James Payne and Leonard Chenault pushed City Hall for improvements to the space to ensure neighborhood youth could enjoy amenities like a swing set, teeter-totter, sand box, and a basketball court. She recalls frequenting it in the 1960’s with her younger sister Cynthia and brothers Jim and Douglas.
Jackie Chenault, daughter of Vera and Leonard Chenault, says she remembers gathering there nearly every day after school.
“Basically, we hung out there,” she says of the neighborhood youth in the late 1950s and early 1960s. “We played kickball, baseball, volleyball. We were a close-knit neighborhood. Everybody knew each other. Many of them were my family.”
She says her dad and James Payne would look out for youth at the park to ensure everyone was safe. And if maintenance or safety measures were needed, they made it known to City Hall, or even did it themselves. At the time, the area did not have a recognized park name. In fact, much of the space now known as Oak Park did not exist as a recreation area. It was used as a city dump, says Chenault.
The Paynes and Chenaults were also active in the wider African-American community, working through church and civic groups to help make life better for youth. Ruth Payne in particular was honored for having raised thousands of dollars in college scholarships for African-American students. She was a long-time leader in The National Bowling Association, where she was honored for developing the National Junior Bowling Program, Scholarship Program, Celebrity Bowl, and Junior Council.
Ruth Payne was also recognized by the City of Cincinnati with a June 6, 1998 Proclamation Day under Mayor Roxanne Qualls. In addition, Mount Zion Baptist Church of Woodlawn named her as Woman of the Year in 2002, and she received many other local and national awards.
The families hope the donated bench will be a continual reminder of how the service and civic leadership of a few can improve the lives of many.