The dedication ceremony for the long-awaited, newly-renovated Bill Schupp Park, with its additions of an amphitheater and sunken garden, is slated for March 28. Anticipated to be in attendance are Bill Schupp’s daughter, Jan, and grandnephew, Brockton Schupp.

The more than $700,000 park project will add to the Valley’s already scenic tourist attractions, and the amphitheater is predicted to emerge as one of the Valley’s newest tourist sites and concert venues.

“When the city commission dedicated the land for Schupp Park, it was following Bill Schupp’s wishes that at least one park in the city be set aside for nature, for bird watching and quiet contemplation,” said Larry Pressler, director of the City of McAllen Parks and Recreation Department. “A sunken garden and amphitheater setting seemed the best plan to fulfill Bill Schupp’s wish for the park.”

The 20-acre revamped Schupp Park, located on West Zinnia Avenue in McAllen, will provide residents of the Valley with a new, much-needed open space for the growing community. The sunken garden and amphitheater, with its benches, native plants and spectacular fountains will offer a welcome respite to all who visit. The perimeter and interior walkways have been planted with new palm and shade trees. Cameras are being added for security so that families will be able to enjoy picnic areas and the environmentally-themed children’s play areas with peace of mind.

“This will be something people will want to take out-of-town visitors to see,” Andrew Heffner, McAllen Parks and Recreation Department’s in-house landscape architect said. “Many hours of planning and orchestration have gone into this project.”

The original subsurface drains remain intact today, providing drainage for the garden and amphitheater. “The complexity of the job was staggering,” Pete Ayala, a supervisor for Green Thumb, the company commissioned to excavate and landscape the park, said. “It took ingenuity to get the job done because of the land’s contour, bridge and amphitheater.”

The park’s namesake, Bill Schupp, served as City Manager of McAllen for 28 years before his retirement in April of 1974. It was Schupp who hired the city’s current Parks and Recreation Director, Larry Pressler.

“He (Schupp) came in July 1946, and he brought McAllen into the modern world,” Pressler said. “When he retired, many elected officials even called McAllen ‘Bill Schupp City,’ because he had spent all of the 28 years making McAllen what it is today.”

Many long-time residents of the Rio Grande Valley knew William Leo Carl Schupp, affectionately known as “Bill,” and some went to high school with him in Edinburg. After graduation, Schupp attended Southwest Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos. Schupp later went on to receive a Masters degree in Public Administration from Missouri University.

“It is little known that Bill Schupp and former United States President Lyndon B. Johnson were roommates in an apartment in the dean’s garage at Southwest Texas State Teachers College,” Pressler said. “They were on the debate team together during their college years.”

An interesting fact that has made the park what it is today, according to Pressler, is that in 1972 when the city bought the land and dedicated it as Schupp Park, Jan Klinck’s dad, Clifford Klinck, (the founder of Klinck’s Drug Stores) donated more than $50,000 worth of Homestake Mining stock to the city for development of Schupp Park. It was called the ‘Klinck Park Fund’ and was dedicated to developing Schupp Park.

McAllen city leaders began to build what they could, a little at a time. “We put in some picnic tables, and the irrigation system,” Pressler said. “It’s fascinating to note that initially there was a concept of a big reflection pond out in the middle of the park that was supposed to look something like the one at Washington Memorial park. The engineers took hold of the idea and turned it into a storm water detention pond to drain the runoff to the 18th street drainage ditch to protect the homes on the south side.”

The Valley had a long way to grow to get where it is today, and for several years Bill Schupp Park remained mostly vacant, bordered by agricultural land. “It was all country,” Pressler said. “Nothing was built from the park clear to Edinburg.”

It took six more years before, one-by-one, homes were constructed on the north side of the park, and the storm water detention ponds were no longer needed. “The whole thing was abandoned,” Pressler said. “And there it was; we had this big hole in the ground with concrete walls around it. A lot of money had been spent, but now there was no real purpose for it.”

McAllen city leaders had to make a decision about what to do with the unfinished park. “Going all the way back to the early 1980’s, everybody wanted to do something with it, but didn’t know what,” Pressler said. “City Commission had indicated that maybe the best thing to do would be to fill it in.”

However, Larry Pressler had different aspirations for the park. He began designing and drawing his own plans, which have now become the park’s sunken garden and amphitheater. “I’ve been carrying the plans with me ever since,” Pressler said. “Every several years, we would take it to the city commission during the budget process and try to get funding for it, but we never could.”

All that changed in 2006 when Pressler was able to get the funding he had been hoping for. “It finally was approved in the city budget,” Pressler said, “so we took it back to the city commission, and the person who made the motion to appropriate the funds and give us the ‘go ahead’ was none other than Jan Klinck, city commissioner and son of the man who in 1972 had donated the $50,000 to build it.”

Pressler recalled that during the commission meeting, Jan Klinck said, “If we’re finally going to do this, let’s do it right!”

“A sunken garden is a people-pleasing kind of amenity,” Pressler reiterated. “Because people will be able to sit down below ground level, the wind and noise will be blocked. It will provide a space for people to meditate, chill out and reinvigorate. That’s a feature in a park that can work to improve a neighborhood, which, in turn, improves the community as a whole.”