Frozen park funds force caretaker out

Duncan Memorial Park’s caretaker for the past 10 years, Bob DeHare, said he won’t be doing the seasonal job this year because the city is unable to access the funds to pay him.
Becky Vargo
Apr 23, 2014


Grand Haven City Manager Pat McGinnis said the city’s public works crews will be taking over maintenance of the park.

The issue is the result of a series of lawsuits and rulings related to the death of a Nunica child from injuries he suffered while sledding at the park in 2009.

While reviewing one of the lawsuits, an Ottawa County Circuit Court judge ruled the park belonged to the city and not to the park’s trust, thus giving governmental immunity to the park trustees at the time – Ed Lystra, Jerry Scott and Rodney Griswold. A separate lawsuit targeting DeHare was set aside pending an appeal.

After the Circuit Court decision, the city formed a new, five-member Duncan Park Commission that kept DeHare on as its caretaker.

However, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled in March that the trust, not the city, owned the park. McGinnis said that ruling caused a lot of confusion about what should be done with the park — and, in the meantime, the city attorney advised the city that it could not access park funds, which are held by the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation.

DeHare can’t be hired as a part-time parks worker for the city because of union restrictions, the city manager said.

Several years ago, officials were already having discussions with the former Duncan Park commissioners about the possibility of the city taking over the park when the fatal sledding incident happened, McGinnis said. The park commissioners at the time had not met for more than two years, he said.

Chance Nash, 11, died from injuries he suffered when his sled ran into a snow-covered stump at the park on Dec. 31, 2009.

McGinnis pointed out a license agreement between the Duncan Park Commission and the city in 1994 allows the city to use the park “solely for the benefit of the people of Grand Haven and for no other purposes.” Because of the license, McGinnis said the current commission will continue to oversee operations to make sure the park is run in the manner set forward in the deed establishing the trust.

To read the whole story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.



DeHare is a loose cannon anyway, he's been harassing people in that park for years and a bit over the top in following people around.


You Really think that sir !!!


Sorry, I've been away. But I want to reinforce ghk13's comments above. Don't brush them off so quickly. The charges of harassment and annoying people by following them around and inserting himself into private conversations ring true to my experience, to the point of bullying workers in my yard and making inappropriate sexist comments to the woman in charge of the crew. I'm sure he's done a fine job over the years, but I have never had trouble from the city workers and crews.


If the park is owned by the Trust, and not the city:

1. Why would the city be trying to "access" park funds as a source of pay for DeHare?

2. Why would work rules between the city and its union(s) be cited as a reason DeHare couldn't be hired and paid by the Trust on a part time basis?

3. Why am I asking these basic questions about seeming contradictions in the city's response instead of Ms. Vargo and the Tribune?

Mystic Michael

Good questions. I was starting to wonder why I'd reached the end of the piece, yet was still confused.

The park has always had a special place in my heart. (We always called it "Duncan Woods". I don't know anyone who ever called it "Duncan Park".) When I was a little kid, we lived in an old Victorian style house on Second Street, near Clinton Avenue - just a few blocks away. It has always been one of my very favorite spots in the entire Grand Haven / Spring Lake / Ferrysburg area - and still is. My dad used to take my sisters and me sledding there during the winter.

Good memories. Whoever is responsible for the park's maintenance, I hope they keep it looking sharp.


Sounds like it was a special place for you - it seems, unfortunately, that similar memories are unlikely to be enjoyed by today's kids. That's a shame.


What a sad day for Grand Haven. Very sad and not good news. Bob has been taking care of the park far above and beyond what any salary/job description required. His ownership and love for the park are unsurpassed. His dedication and commitment to the history of the park, including what Martha Duncan's deed specified - also unsurpassed. Issues with as much or more environmental impact as the collapse of Water Tank Hill dune have been headed off and stopped by Bob's attention to detail in the park. Question...will a city attorney still defend Bob from the lawsuit against him/trustees?


I agree with Lakota about this being a sad day. Bob DeHare was the heart and soul of Duncan Park, and he made sure that the park's true intent set forth in Martha Duncan's deed was maintained as she intended. This was a job of Love for Mr. DeHare. He loved that park. It was not a 9 to 5 union job. Letting Mr. DeHare go is unconscionable, and is an example of why the City of Grand Haven should not be taking over and managing Duncan Park. As a matter of fact, I thought that's what the judge just ruled. So I'm totally confused. If the Trust owns the park (not the city), why can't the trust access the Funds at the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation, and pay Mr. DeHare to continue taking care of the park? The Trust should appoint a new board or commission and manage the park as it was intended to do. I don't understand why the city appears to continue to try to control and manage the park when the judge just ruled that the city has no ownership, control, or interest in the park. If I was Mr. DeHare I would hire an attorney and get his job back as I'm sure Martha Duncan would have wanted. I'm sure she would have wanted someone who loved the park maintaining it and looking after it as she intended. BTW, if it's only a union issue, then give Mr. DeHare a mgt title to bypass these stupid obsticals, and do what's right for the park and reward Mr. DeHare's hard work and loyalty to the park. This is just wrong. Someone needs to do something to right this wrong.


Absolutely right GN. He has always been paid from the "trust" - the funds from the community foundation. I contribute to that. What gives..? Where are those monies?


well, you know, there is a problem, with lawsuits and everything going, someone had a notion, let,s not, pay him and probably ban him from the property, but, its only my opinion, read between the lines


Exactly what I thought, an underhanded move by the City Manager. It seems to be a spreading epidemic in the area as stated, or it could be that it is so blatant I can't help but notice!


way to go NASH family! your liberal thoughtlessness continues to bring the community down. Nash's parents should be put in jail for child abuse/neglect in the 4th degree.


No doubt, the Nash family incurred a terrible loss; but, unfortunately, their selfish quest for revenge will result in the closing of a great recreational venue for the youth of Grand Haven. Everyone knows that there are inherent risks with sledding. Do we really eliminate any opportunity for our children to take a risk? That’s where self -serving lawsuits like this are taking us.


There seems to be a pattern with compromised personnel matters by City Managers in the Tri-Cities these days. It seems like unnecessarily bad handling of long-time public servants that stirs up a lot of bad press and negative feelings among citizens. I'd be interested in some sort of explanation.

Mystic Michael

Classic small town politics?


Classic trial lawyers creating a duty where none existed? If you were injured when enjoying your great Duncan Woods would your parents or you have sued the city and the caretaker?


Yes this is terrible thing.. but this goes back years ago. When I was kid the city plowed the lot in the park and did some of street maintenance. I think the question still is was this land donated to the city or not. I agree that the judge has it right during the lawsuit on the wrongful death situation. I broke my leg in the park sliding down one of the trails. I hit a snow covered tree limb. My parents certainly go after anyone because its part of sliding in Duncan Woods. Something smells with this situation.. The city has a long history of doing things under the table. They are trying to pass the buck here...


I believe Martha Duncan deeded "Duncan Woods" to the people in Grand Haven and not to the City government. The judge tried to change it to save the City from a lawsuit which did not work. Bob DeHare has done a great job in keeping the grounds there in tip top shape as Martha wished and should be allowed to continue to work there as long as he wants to. It will cost a heck of a lot more money for the City employees to do the job then the measly $3600 they are now paying Bob. I hope the people stand up to the City Manager on this one and demand that he keep Bob as the caretaker.


Bull doze the whole thing and make more parking.....


make parking for what ?


thee beach, downtown little bit of a walk. My point is if you can't use the park or if its a liability pave it and park cars on it....


Calm down everyone! I am sure the union workers will do just as good a job for a fraction of the costs /sarcasm


What's the chance someone could get hurt sledding? Chance took a chance. Chances are it could just be your chance Chance. How appropriate Chance was named Chance hey you took your chances sledding. Don't sue others for the dumb chances you take in life.


If the park is to be regulated by the city, why dont we place warning signs stating that the city isnt responsible for injuries that occur in the park. Or, why cant we make a small non-profit organization with concessions?? Pigeon Creek seems to be doing okay.


why dont we place warning signs stating that the city isnt responsible for injuries that occur in the park, i do not think people pay attention to signs, speed limit sign,s are one example


Fight all you want about the 'adults' and politics involved, but whoever this PRICK 'Straightjacket' is, for making a joke of the name and circumstance of a young boy who died, is infuriating.
Like I said, talk about the parents if you must, but that is going too far.


We wish you good luck Bob DeHare !!


Thanks Bob you did your best!


I understand that the "accident" that took Chance from his parents has created the type of grief that only a parent that lost a child will ever understand. Sledding anywhere in Duncan Woods has the potential for danger that many can testify to. The prime sledding area creates the possibility for a child to slide under a parked car or rocket into a parking post. There should be signs posted warning parents that sledding is done at your own risk. Perhaps it is best that the City control the park because the park lacks the financial resources to fend off a lawsuit that MAY (I don't know) result in a judgement that takes the park as compensation. It is also unfortunate that Bob DeHare must suffer from the loss of a job but also the cost of defending himself against a lawsuit. He was an excellent steward for the park and will be missed and deserves our support.


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