Gardner, Wilkes deserve honors

Robert Anderson

There aren’t many sports-minded people in Conway who don’t know Billy Gardner and Pete Wilkes.

Wilkes and Gardner are true public servants who devoted much of their lives to making life better for young people in the Conway area.

Both are true gentlemen and very deserving of recent honors that the City of Conway bestowed upon them to recognize their service to the community.

Conway City Council recently agreed to name the city’s recreation complex, the Billy Gardner Recreation Center.

Also, football field No. 1 at the complex will forever be known as the Pete Wilkes Football Field.

I can’t think of two more deserving people.

Wilkes coached recreation league football and baseball for more than three decades, while working and supporting a family at the same time.

He did it for the right reasons.

“I’ve always felt that sports and afterschool programs can be a strong deterrent to crime,” he said. “I like being a part of it. I was a troubled youth myself. It was only by the grace of God I turned from those ways and tried to be productive in society.”

Gardner, meanwhile, served as the city’s recreation director from 1977 to 2000.

Gardner spent much of his early time with the city in a small office on Magrath Avenue where he and fellow staff members Sandra Smart and Ken Senn ran a program that included no basketball gymnasium of its own and only a couple of baseball fields near Conway Elementary School.

Gardner is credited with helping the department grow from humble beginnings to the sprawling complex that exists today.

Conway city administrator Bill Graham credits Gardner with encouraging city leaders to buy and develop the park.

Conway is certainly a better place because of Wilkes and Gardner and others like them.

I’m sure there are many young people who didn’t respond to the coaching and advice of Wilkes and Gardner, but both of them would probably say it was worth it if it helped only one person.

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