The Ties That Bind

All, Great Parks History, Stories

In honor of Great Parks’ 90th Birthday, retired Naturalist Coordinator Joyce Lovins Browning shares her story of growing up in Great Parks – literally. Joyce’s father helped build many areas guests today know and love.


Vernon Lovins in the Army 1944.
Vernon Lovins in the Army 1944.

My ties with Great Parks started long before I was born. To fully explain, I will have to take you back to 1946. Many GIs were returning from World War II and needed a job. One of those GIs was my father, Vernon Lovins. The day after returning from overseas, he went to Sharon Woods to apply for a job. Born in Kentucky and raised in Sharonville, Ohio, Sharon Woods is where he played and hung out as a teenager. Needless to say, daddy got the job and worked on the operations crew for the next 36 years, building new picnic areas and park facilities. In 1948, he transferred to the “new” park near Harrison that would become Miami Whitewater Forest.

The first house on Strimple Road, 1949.
The first house on Strimple Road, 1949.

The first house dad and mom moved into was a small, four-room house with no indoor plumbing and only a coal furnace for heat. I recall my mom talking about the cold, snowy November day that they moved in. They lived there for a little while before moving up Strimple Road to a larger home on 65 acres. Several years later, they moved down on Mt. Hope Road to an even larger home to accommodate their growing family. With four sons and three daughters, this large home was next to the maintenance shop and across the road from the current Miami Whitewater Forest Harbor. This was a huge house with a wraparound porch and the best staircase banister for sliding down as a child!

Vernon Lovins operating a tractor during Miami Whitewater Forest Harbor construction in 1961.
Vernon Lovins operating a tractor during Miami Whitewater Forest Harbor construction in 1961.

As the harbor was being built, I remember standing on a hill of dirt, watching daddy run the bulldozers and digging out the lake bed. It was in this home that we used to run under the sprinklers at the golf course on hot summer nights. So, I guess you could call it the first water playground in the park!

When I was seven years old, my three older siblings had gotten married, so we moved back to the house on Strimple Road that sat on the 65 acres. We lived in this house for the next 10 years, and it’s the one I remember the most. There was a large barn, and every autumn, the horses at Winton Woods would be brought up to winter in the fields. It was then that I learned to ride bareback (Shhh … don’t tell Winton Woods Riding Center!)

Vernon Lovins working at Winton Woods Harbor.
Vernon Lovins working at Winton Woods Harbor.

I know I could go on and on about the memories of growing up in the beauty and nature of Miami Whitewater Forest, but I am sure you would get tired of reading it. I did not know it at the time, but I was privileged to have the opportunity to see the parks grow by being a part of it as a park family and an employee for 20 years. The ties that started in 1946 have stayed tied. Continuously for the last 74 years, there has been a Lovins family member employed at one of the Great Parks. My three older brothers, both of my daughters and several nieces and nephews have worked in the park district, and still do. Currently, my nephew Steve Lovins works for Winton Woods maintenance team! 

Happy 90th birthday, Great Parks! You will forever be in my memories and heart. I will hold these golden memories of summers climbing trees, riding bikes, enjoying root beer floats at the golf course clubhouse, chasing fireflies, picking blackberries, calling Whip-poor-wills in the dark or caring for the many little critters that our cats dragged in. 


Joyce Lovins Browning, Retired Great Parks Naturalist Coordinator

Comments