SARASOTA, Fla. - Nestled along Sarasota Bay and underneath the Ringling Bridge is a park built out of love.
“She wanted a bench. I thought she deserved a lot more than that,” said Doc Werlin, whose wife, Eloise, died of breast cancer in 2011.
Doc Werlin, while searching for an appropriate tribute to his wife, came across a space in need.
“I came across this park close to where I live," he said. "It was in terrible condition. No playground equipment, tall weeds."
Werlin adopted the park in 2015, named it after his wife, then made $500,000 in improvements, including new playground equipment, a gazebo and landscaping.
And he's just getting started.
More lighting will be added in September, followed by two themed benches and the repainting of the Hart Landing's Bait Building.
“I do it because I love the positive feedback from people who use the park,” he said. “I’m concerned as the city builds up there be less space for people to enjoy nature. That’s a concern of mine. I don’t see a lot of land dedicated to parks it’s a worry of mine.”
Doc visits the park just about everyday and makes it a point to talk to visitors.
"Is there something we can do to enhance the park for you," Doc asked to a couple having lunch.
"No...we enjoy it pretty nice as it," replied Jeff Kelley.
The conversations do yield results. The bathrooms were renovated following complaints from visitors.
Brandon Dixon, who visited the park for the first time with his 3-year-old daughter, was also grateful for the space.
“Thank you for giving us a place we can go spend time as a family,” he said.
Doc says his wife would have liked what he also likes about the park.
“She would have loved to see all the people of different age groups enjoy the park," he said. "She would have read here maybe right on this bench reading. This would have been her favorite park if she were alive today.”
Doc has created a trust with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation to help pay for park maintenance. Sarasota officials are highlighting its partnership with Doc as a model to start an adopt-a-park program.
Doc is also utilizing the park for non-profit groups and fundraising events, including one next year focused on cancer research.
Doc is currently battling colon cancer.
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