He built an oasis of play

Kauff­man and neigh­bors kept watch over the play­ground. They emp­tied trash bins, re­placed nets and mowed the grass.

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 wkenny@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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