Return to home plate: Maddon helps break ground for playground

December 16, 2016

By Jill Whalen | Standard-Speaker

Major League Baseball manager and Hazleton native Joe Maddon helps deliver a grand slam for the Hazleton area.

Maddon, who led the Chicago Cubs to a 2016 World Series title, joined Hazleton Creek Properties founder William Rinaldi at the Hazleton One Community Center on Thursday morning to break ground for a $250,000 playground.

The playground will be the focal point of the center and its Hazleton Integration Project (HIP) at 225 E. Fourth St., an organization which was formed by Hazleton native Maddon and others to unite people of different cultures.

Rinaldi will foot the bill for the playground, said Frank DeAndrea, president of the HIP board of directors.

“He is passionate about our facility,” DeAndrea noted, adding that Rinaldi has lent financial support to other center projects.

According to DeAndrea, the HIP board had been mulling whether to add a playground to the property. While talking to Rinaldi, whose mine reclamation business is in Hazleton, DeAndrea mentioned the wish.

“He immediately asked what we needed,” DeAndrea said.

As directors researched the project, they learned that since the center is a state-licensed child care facility, the playground would need a poured rubber “floor,” a handicapped-accessible ramp and other special equipment. Costs quickly began to mount but Rinaldi still promised his support, DeAndrea said.

DeAndrea, Maddon and other community leaders on hand for the announcement thanked Rinaldi for his generosity.

“My role here is small compared to everyone else’s,” Rinaldi said.

Rinaldi said he believes in the center and its mission to provide activities for economically disadvantaged area youths and adults. It also focuses on uniting people of all ethnic backgrounds.

“My relatives came from Old Italy. No one wanted to meet them. No one wanted to greet them,” he said.

The center, he said, keeps youths off the street and out of trouble.

“The children are our future,” Rinaldi said.

The center opened about four years ago in the former Most Precious Blood Catholic School. Maddon is credited with forming the idea for it after visiting a Broad Street day care facility. He told community leaders and center supporters assembled for the announcement how adults there shared dinner while children intermingled.

“It was exactly what we looked like in the late ’50s and early ’60s on 11th Street when there were four families living in an apartment,” he said. “It really struck me at this point. This is who we were. These people who are here now — specifically the Hispanic population in Hazleton — are exactly like how our ancestors had been. How they didn’t speak the language that well, how they ate different food, listened to different kinds of music. They were extremely Catholic, extremely family-oriented. They were exactly who we were.”

He called his cousin, Elaine Maddon Curry and her husband, Robert “Bob” Curry, and the idea for the center was born.

Since it opened four years ago, Maddon — the center’s honorary chairman — has seen it flourish during visits to his hometown. The success, he said, will only lead to a better community for all.

“We are a country of different cultures that are continually evolving into a single people. That has always been the American way and it is our greatest strength as a nation,” Maddon said. “I am confident that as long as we all are willing to work together, we will continue to build our city into a model community that will inspire a deep sense of pride in our citizens.”

Bob Curry, HIP’s founding president, said the center might not be where it is today without support from Maddon, Rinaldi and the community.

“It does indeed take a village. No one is going to give us anything. We have to work for it. You have to earn it, and you can’t do it alone,” he said.

Curry said the playground was a “missing piece” for the center, which features a gym, kitchen, community rooms and classrooms.

The playground will be on a parking lot at the center’s Hayes Street side. It should take about 90 days to install and should be ready during the spring. The playground will feature a baseball theme, DeAndrea said.

“Some people may say it is the Chicago Cubs’ colors. However, I say it is red, white, blue with gray, so it’s the colors of the USA,” DeAndrea said.

In the past, Rinaldi donated 20 Apple computers to the center when directors told him they needed five. He also had the center’s computer room carpeted and painted. DeAndrea, a former Hazleton police chief, noted that Rinaldi continues to allow the department to store department-seized vehicles on his property for free. Without his generosity, the city would pay between $200 to $300 a day for the service.