With its outdoor pool, expansive grass field and trademark rocket ship jungle gym on its playground, Scott Carpenter Park is a Boulder institution where generations of kids have played.
On Thursday, astronaut Scott Carpenter, for whom the park was named a half-century ago, returned to the park for a 50th anniversary rededication ceremony.
On May 24, 1962, the Boulder native and University of Colorado alumnus became the second American to orbit the Earth.
City officials, state and local dignitaries and an estimated 400 spectators gathered at the park Thursday to commemorate its rededication and welcome Carpenter, who, at age 87, rarely makes it back to his hometown these days.
Among the speakers who lauded Carpenter's achievements and the inspiration he has provided to young Americans were Boulder Deputy Mayor Lisa Morzel, State Rep. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and CU Chancellor Phil DiStefano.
Morzel, a career earth scientist, was 9 when Carpenter was launched into space, and she said Thursday he inspired and motivated her to strive for great things.
"That Aurora flight got us all dreaming," she said.
By far the most loudly applauded remarks at the ceremony were those Carpenter delivered himself.
"I am really honored by this whole ceremony and your presence, but what have you been waiting for? It's been 50 years," Carpenter said lightheartedly.
He thanked Boulder leaders past and present for building and maintaining the park for the city's children, and he summed up how honored he felt that he was so warmly welcomed Thursday with the phrase, "Aww, shucks."
After a question-and-answer session during which he discussed the importance of education, the value of focused fear in the cockpit of a spacecraft and other topics, Carpenter took part in a ceremonial ribbon-cutting and stayed briefly to chat with attendees.
Arvada resident Lila Schow grew up in Lafayette and often came to Boulder to play in Scott Carpenter Park as a kid. She said she brought her young children, Carter and Tabitha, to Thursday's ceremony because she "wanted them to see a real astronaut, especially one of the first."
"He was great," 7-year-old Carter said.
Also in attendance Thursday was Susan Dillon, a Boulder High School classmate and former sweetheart of Carpenter. She recounted how at her sweet-16 party, Carpenter bought her an orchid and promised to buy her one on her real birthday, Feb. 29, every year for the rest of their lives. He hasn't missed a Leap Day yet, Dillon said.
"It is just nice to have a friend all these years," she said. "It was wonderful to see him."
Carpenter was one of the members of America's first astronaut group, known as the Mercury 7.
He was born in Boulder on May 1, 1925, and lived in the city on and off into his college years, mostly in his grandparents' home on the corner of Aurora Avenue and Seventh Street.
Photos courtesy of David Shomper
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Photos courtesy of Paul Bousquet
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[FYI, the first photo is with shuttle astronaut, Bruce McCandless]