Note: Yesterday I wrote about the City of Corvallis, Oregon naming a new playground after my dad. The funds are in place and the parks department is making final plans for the playground’s placement. One of the items that’s been on my to-do list is to provide more information on my dad’s life and work to Friends of Corvallis Parks. This dedicated and inspiring group works to improve the park system in Corvallis and is responsible for helping raise funds for The Ronald Naasko Playground, among others. I wrote this bio for their website and thought I would also share it here.
Ronald Naasko Playground
Working with children makes you remember the magic. It makes you remember what’s important. And what’s not.—Ronald Naasko
A riverfront playground was a long-time dream of 20-year Corvallis resident Ronald Naasko.
Mr. Naasko, who lived downtown for many years and died in September 2011, was often seen strolling Riverfront Park in his wheelchair, picking up litter and watching children play. He was a tireless advocate for the community, for children and for the disabled.
He was so well known, he often couldn’t get too far along his beloved riverfront path before he heard a young voice call out, “Mr. Naasko! Mr. Naasko!” His face would light up and he would stop to chat, give out hugs, or rides in his wheelchair. He was patient and kind. Children loved him.
Mr. Naasko served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army’s First Cavalry Division until March 20, 1968 when he stepped on a landmine at age 19 and lost both of his legs. He spent the next 43 years in a wheelchair.
After the war, he dedicated himself to raising a family and public service. He worked as an administrator, building parks and playgrounds in Lakewood, Colorado before retiring to Corvallis in 1990. It was here that he began his truth life’s work: teaching.
For more than 20 years, he volunteered at the Old Mill Center for Children and Families, a local preschool that integrates special-needs children with typically developing children in the same classroom.
“I wanted to work with kids who need me,” said Mr. Naasko in a 2005 Corvallis Gazette-Times article about his work at Old Mill. He also wanted to show disabled kids that there are disabled adults, and that they’re just regular people.
“Naasko illustrates perfectly the philosophy of Old Mill Center,” said former director Bev Larson. “Everybody has challenges and strengths.”
Mr. Naasko wanted to teach all children to see past his wheelchair and view him as a real person — and to be able to do the same with other people they might meet in the future who use wheelchairs.
Mr. Naasko did whatever was needed. He taught, he read, he washed tables, he wiped noses, and tied shoes. He listened and offered gentle words of advice. He often brought broken toys and bikes home to repair. He mentored many Corvallis children from preschool all the way through high school.
In addition to his work at Old Mill, he tutored kids in reading at Mountain View Elementary School and taught religious education at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Corvallis (UUFC). He also often wrote and spoke on behalf of veterans. And he was an active member of Access Benton County, an organization that advocates for the physically disabled.
The playground’s exact location is yet to be determined. It will be designed and built to ADA standards — a playground for all children. Just as Mr. Naasko dreamed.
For more information —
Articles on Mr. Naasko’s life in public service:
Remembering a Friend – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 9/20/11
Articles on Mr. Naasko’s work with children:
Mural honors Old Mill volunteer, founder – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 4/28/12
Friday flag ceremony to honor Ron Naasko – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 10/17/11 Conversations with Clarence, Four years old, by Ronald Naasko – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 8/18/07
Vietnam vet’s love helps kids heal – The Sunday Oregonian, 12/6/98 (not online)
Ceremony honors veteran – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 5/21/05 (not online)
Articles on Mr. Naasko’s work on the riverfront:
Downtown spruce up – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 4/1/12
Articles on Mr. Naasko’s military service:
Vets pay respects at LBCC vigil – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 5/26/11
Honoring the Fallen – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 6/1/10
Corvallis veteran meets his hero, Max Cleland – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 10/10/04
Articles on Mr. Naasko’s advocacy for the disabled:
Garfield honored for playground accessibility – Corvallis Gazette-Times, 5/7/09