Paul Kauffman was more than the squeaky wheel on the block, the neighbor who always was first to complain about any /??incidental/ problem.
Likewise, he was more than the quintessential community volunteer, the first guy to lend a hand of support when something needed to be done.
Kauffman wasn’t necessarily civic-minded; he was more family-minded. And it just so happened that he considered the whole neighborhood his family and its children his own to protect and nurture.
Ten months after his death and one week before their first Father’s Day without him, Kauffman’s kin and community paid tribute to him by unveiling a monument to his paternal benevolence.
The brick and mortar pedestal topped by a bronze plaque stands outside Trumbette Playground in Upper Holmesburg, where Kauffman led the effort to create an oasis of play within the working-class Northeast Philly enclave.
“To quote Paul, ‘It’s all for the kids,’” said Mike Mitchell, Kauffman’s former neighbor and top deputy on the Trumbette volunteer crew. “(And) we’re getting more each day. The playground sometimes is packed with kids.”
Kauffman died from natural causes last Aug. 22 at age 78 and is survived by his widow Lorraine, daughters Lorrie Kauffman and Donna Cappelletti, son Paul Jr., five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
In 1959, he and Lorraine moved the family to Carwithan Road near Ditman Street, across the street from an irregularly shaped parcel of undeveloped land that would eventually become Trumbette Playground.
The site is now named after Ronald Trumbette, a Philadelphia police officer who was shot and killed in the line of duty in 1975. It has three ball fields, a couple of basketball courts and a jungle gym/swing set for younger children.
Tucked alongside the Academy Road exit of Interstate 95, it’s one of the city’s smaller recreation sites, with no full-time leader on staff. It’s not even included on the “facilities” list on the Department of Parks and Recreation Web site.
For years, Kauffman, a few of his neighbors and their collective vision were just about all that the place had going for it.
“Basically there wasn’t anything over there and they built the whole playground,” Lorraine Kauffman said. “He did it for the neighborhood, for the children, so they would have a good place to play and wouldn’t be out on the street.”
Kauffman was a master machinist and worked three jobs for much of his adult life, his wife said. When he retired in 2003 or 2004, he began spending a lot more time with the family. The couple’s three grown children, Donna, Lorrie and Paul Jr., had given them five grandchildren.
“He was a loving grandfather and proud of everything they did,” Lorraine Kauffman said. “He would always take them different places like the circus. We went to Florida and took the two older (granddaughters) to Disney World. He was always joking and reminiscing about what life was like with his father.”
Times were tough back then.
“(Kauffman’s father) was strict and he had to follow rules and that was hard,” Lorraine Kauffman said. “It was during the Depression and nobody had money. He always hated potato soup because that’s all they ever had. He didn’t have much.”
He wanted better for his own children and grandchildren, as well as those in the community. After his retirement, he made a daily ritual of working on the playground and recruiting neighbors to do the same.
He convinced Mike Mitchell, Ed Wilson and Mike Cebzanov to help. When the trash bins filled, they emptied them. When the basketball nets wore out, they bought and installed new ones. When vandals painted graffiti on the asphalt, fences or backboards, Kauffman and his crew would wash it off or convince a city crew to do the clean-up work promptly.
They pulled weeds, raked up debris and planted flowers and trees. They mowed the ball fields and lawns to keep the grass manageable between city-sponsored mowings. The Holmesburg Boys Club, which uses the fields, bought the gas.
“I was unemployed and (Kauffman) got me over here and kept saying, ‘This will all be yours someday,’” said Mitchell, who’s been coordinating things in his mentor’s absence. “(Now) we just get together and say, ‘This is what Paul did and what has to be done.’”
Thanks to Kauffman’s persistent advocacy and lobbying, the city installed the swing set and jungle gym on a padded play area several years ago.
“And this garden back here,” Mitchell said, pointing to a flower bed, “it was all Paul’s. That was our bench, mine and Paul’s, just to come and hang out.”
The playground became a great place for block parties and picnics, too.
“We bring our tents and grills. It’s beautiful here,” Mitchell said.
The place wasn’t just for local homeowners and long-term residents. Youths living in the nearby Liddonfield Homes public housing project were a fixture at the playground until the Philadelphia Housing Authority demolished the apartment complex in 2010.
“He embraced them. He was trying to give them stuff so they had something to do,” Lorraine Kauffman said.
Although Kauffman left most of the playing to the youngsters, he was always nearby and available, like a safety net and security blanket rolled into one. He even organized a Halloween costume parade on Carwithan, Aberdale and Tolbut streets.
The kids got their candy in a fun and safe environment while the adults didn’t have to spend all night waiting for the doorbell to ring.
“He watched out for everything. He was very watchful and caring. He just enjoyed life and enjoyed the kids,” Lorraine Kauffman said.
Although Paul Kauffman disapproved of any personal recognition during his lifetime, his family decided he deserved the memorial. The plaque recognizes him, “For his dedication and devotion to his community.”
“It to show the community so they see his achievements,” Paul Jr. said.
“This playground has meant everything to him. He deserves to be a part of it whether he’s present or not,” Donna Cappelletti said. “He’s with us in spirit every day.” ••
Reporter William Kenny can be reached at 215-354-3031 or firstname.lastname@example.org