I am a Liberty native and have lived here all my life, as did my grandparents & great-grandparents. Some things bring back memories and one of those is the LaPolt park that sits on Main Street in the middle of town. After all these years I feel it is time to remember how this park came about…….
As a child I remember the Firestone building that occupied the area where the park is today. It was a large brick building that sold anything a kid would love…..bikes, balls, bats….. things that summer fun were made of! I remember the trips there with my Dad and the excitement of getting a new set of streamers for the handlebars on my bike!
One afternoon in October 1965 the quiet on Main Street was interrupted by smoke and fire. Six fire companies were called to battle the blaze that was started in the Firestone building by several boys playing with matches. The smell of burning rubber permeated the air and thick clouds of black smoke made passing through town impossible. Main Street was shut down and kids were let out of school. I still remember the thick black air, burning odors and commotion of people and fire trucks. The Firestone building was gone and all that was left was a hole of smoldering ruins.
In the years that followed the Village cleared the area where this building once stood and built the Senior Center along with a mini-park for all to enjoy. The park was completed with the dedication and efforts of many.
John LaPolt, Sr managed the Dairy Queen ice cream stand on North Main Street which was owned by his brother William. He occupied the window and would gladly take your order with a smile and friendly greeting.
It wasn’t summer until they opened with their Dilly Bars, Sundaes and cones with the “curl on top”.
John LaPolt, Jr son of John & Adelia LaPolt left Liberty in 1965 at the age of 22 for Camp Humphreys in South Korea after completing 8 weeks of Army training in Georgia. He was stationed in Taejeon as a US Army military police officer for 15 months. While there he met a local girl named We [Saeng] Kwon. It was “love at first sight” for the couple during the time John was in Korea. Their romance was cut short when John was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to finish out a two-year military obligation. When his tour was done John returned home to Liberty, but soon realized he loved the beautiful Korean girl he left behind. He returned to South Korea and married Miss Kwon (Vicky) in an official ceremony at the US Embassy, which was followed by a ceremonial wedding in Daejon, South Korea. The local Korean newspaper covered the unique event of this couple who didn’t let their nationalities keep them apart.
John & Vicky purchased the ice cream stand from John Sr. in 1970 and ran it as the Dairy Barn for close to 20 years. John was a local businessman & supporter of Liberty and was a member of the Catskill Society of Model Engineers; Liberty Fire Department Ontario Hose Company No 3; and the Liberty Presbyterian Church.
He created the Liberty Community Coalition which was the precursor of the Liberty Chamber of Commerce. His vision was for Liberty’s Main Street to be a nucleus of activity for all and not just Liberty natives, but those in outlying hamlets, as well. In 1992 John became the first “Citizen of the Year” in Liberty which recognized his love and concern for his home town of Liberty. John passed away in 1993 at the young age of 50, but he was not meant to be forgotten.
In 1994 the mini-park created on the site of the Firestone store & fire was renamed LaPolt Park in his honor. Over the years many improvements have taken place in the park including the addition of gardens tended to by the Parks & Rec department and Renaissance folks; a stage that hosts music events and grade school celebrations; and the return of the “Liberty Chicken” which now has a prominent place in the Village.