Pine Banks Park is on new turf this week. A new synthetic field surface is one of several changes at the Pine Banks Park baseball field at the corner of Main and Sylvan Streets on the Melrose/Malden line. The work marks the culmination of a $3 million joint project between Melrose and Malden, which local officials unveiled in a ceremony last Thursday morning.
The project was funded through a $500,000 grant from the state, and a 10-year, $2.5 million loan from Eastern Bank split between the two neighboring communities.
Visitors to the field now see a landscape transformed from four rudimentary baseball diamonds into a park with towering lights, new padded fences and an increased parking area. Another significant addition is the sign at the entrance heralding the park’s new name: Kezer Field.
The field was renamed for Charles F. “Chuck” Kezer, the late Malden resident who served as a trustee for various organizations both in Malden and in Melrose, also served as a Pine Banks Park trustee for 35 years, from 1960 to 1995.
Kezer, a 1939 graduate of Malden High School, married his high school sweetheart, Margaret Turner, in 1942 before enlisting in the U.S. Army. He served as an infantryman with the 83d Division and participated in the Normandy invasion and the campaign across France, receiving multiple decorations, including the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
Upon returning home, Kezer, with help from the G.I. Bill, attended Northeastern University, graduating in 1948 and then earning his law degree from Northeastern’s School of Law in 1950.
His son, C. Henry Kezer – who is the current Pine Banks Board of Trustees President — recalled the difficulties his father faced early in life, beginning with the death of his own father in 1937. It happened when Charles Kezer was 17, and the oldest man in a family of four — with two younger children to care for still in the house.
“I had the advantage of 55 years with him in close contact. Sometimes the contact was closer than I would have liked,” Kezer said at the ceremony last Thursday, drawing laughs from the crowd. “Although I wasn’t paying attention all that time, the last 30 years of working with him gave me an idea of who he was.
“The fact of the matter is, the entire time, he didn’t once give me an occasion to think that there was a gap between what he thought was important, what he expected from me and the way he conducted his life. It’s the greatest legacy he could have given me and to his grandchildren.”
Melrose Mayor Rob Dolan also memorialized the Kezer family at last week’s dedication.
“We’re here to open this field, but also to recognize an individual and an entire family,” Dolan said. “Mr. Kezer believed, as does his entire family, in service to his community … this is a recognition of this park in honor of Charles Kezer and I’d like to personally thank, on behalf of (Malden) Mayor (Richard) Howard, the entire Kezer family, including his son, for their years of dedicated service to this wonderful park.”
Mayor Howard said the project was possible “because you have people like Hank Kezer and his father Charlie, who the field is being remembered for, have served their community — in Charlie’s case, for 40 years. People like Charlie, Ralph Kenty, and the Burgess family who have served as superintendents here, have given their lives really to make sure a facility like this is used to its ultimate capacity by our two communities.”
State Secretary of Environmental Affairs Ian Bowles also commended the Kezer family.
“I think that places like this are run really by the investment of individuals and their volunteer efforts,” Bowles said. “I think it’s particularly fitting that they are here today and we’re dedicating to their individual efforts.”
A ‘historical gem’ of a partnership
Dolan said the area around the park first started undergoing renovations under former Melrose Mayor Patrick Guerriero and Howard, and those renovations provided the groundwork “to take this from a good facility to one of the finest in the commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
“Every year, Mayor Howard, myself and the great board of trustees have been able to advance this area, which is a historical gem for Melrose and Malden and a place that certainly joins our two great communities,” he said.
Dolan also thanked Sen. Richard Tisei, R-Wakefield, Rep. Mike Festa, D-Melrose, and Rep. Christopher Fallon, D-Malden, for their work in securing state funds for the project.
“This is one of the finest facilities in the commonwealth of Massachusetts and every time I drive by someone beeps in the back of me, because I slow and I stare,” Dolan said to laughs as his son ran around the outfield. “And I won’t stop doing that, and hopefully my little guy who’s in the outfield right now — and not capable of being in one place for more than two seconds — will someday play on this field and I’ll look back with pride on this day.”
Howard said the renovations completed over the years bring families from both communities together almost every night of the week during the summer.
Bowles said that, before the ceremony, he spoke with members of the public and elected officials about the history of the park, which he called “remarkable,” and said the area has the characteristics the state looks for when deciding to fund local projects.
“You’ve got a very active friends group, you’ve got a huge amount of municipal participation, you’ve got an active legislative delegation and you’ve got an amazing resource here both for recreation and natural beauty,” he said. “These are the sorts of things that are fundamentally important to the state.”
“Every different sport that you can imagine being played is here except for hockey … but we actually play field hockey here, so that kind of covers it,” he said. “On any given night in the summertime, this particular space in our two communities is lit up by the great lighting system we’ve put in here. Hundreds, and during the course of the summertime, thousands and thousands of children from our two cities get to enjoy this great facility.”