Volunteers play key role at 50-year-old Ponsonby ballpark

PONSONBY – When Ponsonby Minor Softball formed its first teams in the 1960s, they didn’t have a ballpark of their own. 

But this year the club will celebrate five decades of playing ball on its own “Field of Dreams,” a place that continues to be looked after by community volunteers the same way it was 50 years ago.

“I guess our family’s fourth-generation here,” said Pat Kurtz, sitting in the pavilion at Ponsonby Recreation Park.

She remembers the days when the park had just one diamond and a pair of outhouses, but it has grown significantly since then.

It’s partly the park’s location, surrounded by bush and farmland on 2nd Line East, Ariss, that led to its Field of Dreams nickname, said Kurtz. But it’s also the way volunteers have taken ownership of the park, building it and maintaining it for the athletes who will come there to play.

Kurtz’s father-in-law, Jim Kurtz Sr., was the first president of Ponsonby Minor Softball. He had wanted a place for his boys to play baseball in an organized fashion. Pat Kurtz coached back in the 1980s when her daughter started playing, and she even joined her daughter on a ladies’ team for a season. Now, she has two granddaughters who play for the club, and her son coaches.

“Our kids saw what we did, so now they’re helping out the same way, as much as they can,” she said.

The club’s first season was in 1968, and its squirt, peewee and bantam boys’ teams – as they used to be known – played on the diamonds at Ponsonby Public School. It wasn’t until 1974 that the club’s “Field of Dreams” became a reality thanks to 17 acres of land donated by the Bakker family.

“This was my dad’s farm back in the day,” said Ponsonby Recreation Club president Shirley Obergan of the property that is now home to two full-sized diamonds and a practice diamond. Like, Kurtz, Obergan has been involved in Ponsonby softball for decades. “I’ve never left,” she said.

While Obergan plans to retire from the executive board in the next several years, she said it’s important to her that the park be in good shape and in good hands before she passes the torch.

“We’re trying to leave a legacy,” she said.

The Ponsonby Recreation Club was incorporated in 1989. Around the same time, the club received a grant, which allowed it to build the current concession building and washroom facilities.

Other additions to the park over the years include upgrades to the pavilion, new bleachers, players benches and a scoreboard, paid for with help from a 2010 Trillium Foundation grant. 

Funding from Hydro One in 2016 helped purchase the current playground, and a 2019 Jays Care Foundation grant of $25,000 went toward the cost of lights for both diamonds.

A night game is played at Ponsonby Recreation Park thanks to lighting on the diamond, paid for mostly with community donations and volunteer fundraising efforts. Submitted photo


The project cost significantly more than the grant provided though, and the additional $122,000 came from donations from small businesses, families and a GoFundMe campaign.

“I’m proud of this park, and how we rally together every time we need something,” Obergan said.

“We’ve done a lot here, and we’re pretty proud of it,” agreed Kurtz, a former member of the executive.

The not-for-profit club continues to be volunteer run, and while there is financial support from the Township of Centre Wellington and sponsorship from local businesses, community volunteers do the bulk of the work when it comes to maintaining and operating the park.

“A lot of people do a lot of work around here,” said Kurtz.

Softball registration has had its ups and downs over the years, but the club continues to thrive. This year, there are 280 registered players, ranging in age from four to 18, playing on 14 boys’ and girls’ travelling teams within the Intercounty Softball Association and the North Waterloo Fastball League.

“Now I’m seeing the kids that I coached, and they’re here with their kids,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz has been busy collecting pictures and memorabilia for an event on June 9 that will celebrate 55-plus years of minor softball in the community, and 50 years since the park was built. 

The event takes place from 1 to 5pm, with opening remarks at 2pm. All past, present and future ball players are invited to the meet-and-greet- style event to check out the park. There will be giveaways, free hot dogs, activities for the little ones, and a raffle to win four Blue Jays tickets.

It will also be a chance to check out some of the memorabilia on display. Anyone with photos or items they would be willing to lend for display at the event is asked to contact Kurtz at kurtzjpjk@xplornet.com.