Gerry Frey is a fixture at New Richmond's Hatfield Park
Gerry Frey is modest about his contributions to Hatfield Park and the long-time success of the New Richmond softball complex.
But when you ask him whether he enjoyed the more than 30 years of time he donated to help softball flourish in New Richmond ... well, the big smile that came to his face says more than any words could express.
Frey, 82, has tapered back his involvement at Hatfield Park and in the New Richmond Softball Association this year. You’ll still see him on occasion at Hatfield, and he still does regular duty at the Knights of Columbus Hall.
Frey was one of the people who was instrumental in making Hatfield Park a reality. In 1983, a citizens committee of volunteers, consisting of Frey, Lyle Kelliher, Stan Barr, Bill Driscoll, Russ Gibson, Roger Moe, Yvonne Reardon, Gary Bauermeister and Bill Winchester Jr. was organized by park superintendent John Ball.
“The real ring leader was Lyle Kelliher. He was a go-getter,” Frey said. “There was such an agreement (among the committee members). Everybody had the same vision.”
Ball was hired as the park director in 1981. That position was soon expanded to Park and Recreation Director. He said Frey’s work as a proponent of Hatfield Park on the city council helped pave a path for the completion of the project.
“Gerry was a great sounding board to get on your side,” Ball said.
By November 1983, the committee’s long hours resulted in plans and a layout to get the groundwork begun. The first signs of progress came in 1984. While the ballfields were still being constructed, a shelter was constructed and fences were installed. Through the following winter, plans were drawn for a concession stand and for lights at the first two ballfields.
In the winter of 1985, the Hatfield Softball Association was formed. Lights and bleachers were bid out and the first concessions manager, Jack Moore, was hired.
In the spring of 1986, Hatfield Park opened for business, with more than 40 teams playing on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings. The fields also hosted numerous tournaments, drawing quick attention as one of the finest softball complexes in western Wisconsin. A grand opening was held in 1986, featuring Eddie Feigner, whose “The King and His Court” was one of the biggest softball shows in the nation at the time.
There were already 80 acres of parks in the New Richmond community before Hatfield Park was built. It’s completion gave New Richmond one of the most diverse park systems in western Wisconsin.
All three fields were operational in 1986, though only two had lights at the time. The back field had lights installed in 1993. The third field was expanded from 235 feet to 300 feet in 2000. There was a fire that consumed much of the concession stand in 2002, but the structure was quickly rebuilt. The fire is an unsolved case of arson, something that clearly burns Frey.
Frey is originally from River Falls. He moved to New Richmond in 1957 when his wife got a job at Holy Family Hospital (now Westfields Hospital). Frey worked at Andersen Windows and he quickly became deeply involved in New Richmond activities. He served 28 years on the New Richmond City Council, including two terms as the city’s mayor. He retired from Andersen’s in 1995, giving him more time to donate to his favorite causes, Hatfield Park and the KC Hall.
Frey said there was no resistance to the idea of building a softball complex in 1983. The city fully funded the project. The people on the softball committee wanted to act quickly, fearing that construction companies would act quickly to build homes on the scenic location on Hatfield Lake. Frey said the community knew right away it had something special when Hatfield Park opened.
“Once it got started, you could see it was going to be here forever,” Frey said.
Hatfield Park originally had tennis courts, horseshoe pits and four campsites. The campsites were always in demand. When the Highway 64/65 interchange was rebuilt in 2006, the state reimbursed the park $7,000 for the loss of land. The park board took that funding and built a new playground in 2007. The campsites were also expanded from four to 10, with eight being full hookups. The camping area was further expanded in 2014. It now has 16 campsites and all have full hookups.
Frey has been on the Hatfield Park board since day one and he remains active with the board. He is known for picking up change that got dropped around the complex. As he got older and his back became tender, he was instructed to not bend over to pick up the change. He now walks with a cane and that has become his tool in his pursuit of coins. While at Hatfield, he sticks gum to the bottom of his cane and uses the sticky substance to pull up the change at the end of his cane.
Frey said he would like to see slowpitch softball return to the popularity it has held for most of the past 30 years. At one point, between men’s, women’s and co-ed leagues, Hatfield hosted as many as 73 teams in one season. Four years ago there were 59 teams playing at Hatfield, but that total has dropped to 29 teams this year. Frey said he knows there is still strong interest in softball, saying that the numbers for the Fun Fest tournament, which was begun in 1986, remain just as strong as in the early days.