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Parks board agrees to honor lifetime resident with plaque

Tuesday, July 5, 2022 by Veronica Apodaca

The Parks and Recreation Board heard strong opinions about the renaming of Pan American Neighborhood Park at its June 27 meeting. The board had previously received an application from family members to rename the park in honor of longtime resident and coach Augustine “Tony” Castillo. But rather than changing the park’s name, the board agreed to consider a resolution to erect a plaque in honor of Castillo.

The park was established in 1956, along with the Oswaldo A.B. Cantu Pan American Recreation Center at 2100 E. Third St. Residents of the surrounding community felt strongly about keeping the park’s original name in order to preserve the community’s history.

“(The park) has been chopped up so many times,” resident Gavino Fernandez said in his statement to the board. “We’re losing our identity … we’re losing our land right now through gentrification … and now we come with this, to erase our history, to take away something that my children, my family, even today still enjoy .… We’re homeowners. We’re landowners. We’re going to be affected by this.”

Other residents agreed with the proposal submitted by Tony Castillo’s son, Derek, stating that the renaming would be a fitting tribute to Castillo’s years of service to the community.

“Coach Castillo … taught us how to succeed on and off the court,” resident Bill Cohen said. “He had a family and kids of his own. He didn’t need to pour his heart and soul into coaching, teaching and mentoring all those other kids, but he did … he has done all of this to better the East Austin community.”

Residents opposed to the renaming agreed that Castillo deserved to be recognized for his work but offered alternatives to changing the park’s name, noting that other members of the community who had contributed to its success over the years deserved recognition along with Castillo.

“Instead of renaming the park, we propose that a walk of fame be started at Pan Am, with the names of those to be honored engraved in bricks … in the walk,” said Ana Maciel, board president of the recreation center. “We have so many people who have dedicated themselves to this precious gem that we have in the barrio.”

After hearing from residents, and Parks and Recreation Department Director Kimberly McNeeley, Board Member Patrick Moore said he had drafted a resolution to approve a plaque honoring Castillo’s work. The other board members agreed with the idea and are expected to take further action to approve Moore’s resolution.

After the board reached an agreement, Castillo, who was attending the meeting, protested that the decision was not made fairly.

“I want to thank my son for what he has done … but you were intimidated,” he told the board members.

Despite the heated discussion surrounding the topic, board members expressed their hope that erecting a plaque would honor Castillo’s service while still preserving the history of the neighborhood to which he contributed much of his life.

“Instead of renaming the park as a whole … with a plaque we actually have the opportunity to tell (Castillo’s) story,” Board Member Laura Cottam Sajbel said.

Photo by crockodile from Austin, TX, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

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