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City Lights: Revel in her legacy

October 13, 2010|By Michael Miller

It's an old saying that a person is not truly dead until he or she is forgotten. I doubt many people go into their twilight years without wondering what legacy they will leave behind — whether it's the novel they had published, the business they founded or simply the children they raised.

For Elizabeth Kennedy, a former Huntington Beach resident who passed away Sept. 22, that legacy was a park. It wasn't the only legacy she left behind; she also raised four children, helped restore the historic Newland House and racked up multiple honors in her lifetime, including Huntington Beach's Woman of the Year in 1970.

But judging simply by size, Huntington Central Park was the biggest legacy Kennedy left behind. Friday afternoon, I walked through the spacious park with her son and daughter-in-law, James and Lisa Kennedy, and took in the remarkable gift that she and others left for future generations in Surf City.

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There is a classic Japanese movie called "Ikiru" about a bureaucrat who, in the final throes of cancer, realizes he has accomplished nothing significant in his life and sets out to found a children's playground in a run-down section of town. Fortunately for her community, Elizabeth Kennedy found that inspiration at a much younger age. In 1964, she joined the citizens committee that brainstormed ideas for the future Huntington Central Park — then largely a massive dirt lot, her son recalls — and worked for the next decade to bring the project to fruition.

Elizabeth Kennedy was far from the only person who guided the creation of Huntington Central Park, but according to her son, her ideas led to many of the park's components. A Maine native, she was disappointed to find less open space in Southern California than in her home state. She pushed for untouched fields instead of Little League diamonds. James Kennedy also traces the disc golf course, amphitheater and sheltered picnic area to his mother's suggestions.

Moreover, he remembers her campaigning actively for the $6-million bond measure, passed in 1969, that allowed the park to be built. Elizabeth Kennedy often wore a button with a No. 1 on a 10 on the bottom — meaning every person behind the bond campaign should inform 10 others.

"She enjoyed the city camaraderie," James Kennedy said. "She enjoyed being on projects, leading projects."

Elizabeth Kennedy served on the Recreation and Parks Commission until 1978 and devoted her time during the 1970s to restoring the Newland House, the oldest residence in Huntington Beach and now a city-owned museum. She served for years as a docent at the house, where James and Lisa Kennedy served as caretakers.

"She was a very, very wonderful person," Jerry Person, the city historian, said. "She knew how to get things done and done correctly."

A memorial service for Elizabeth Kennedy will take place at 11 a.m. Friday at Advantage Funeral & Cremation Services, 627 Main St., Huntington Beach. The public is welcome to attend. James Kennedy said many of the people who helped his mother craft Huntington Central Park have passed on, but he looks forward to seeing the turnout.

And some time after that, he may bike through the park, as he does every week. His mother's gift lives on.

City Editor MICHAEL MILLER can be reached at (714) 966-4617 or at michael.miller@latimes.com.

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