Towpath Trail Renaissance Along Riverfront Continues With Dedicated Swings, Plaques

In memory of Becky Breier, her family found a way to showcase her lasting impact. Above are (from left) back row, Gaby Beraja, Noah Shapiro and Norm Shapiro; and front row, Greg Breier, Nick Breier, Sarah Breier and Julie Shapiro. The family is joined by Oreo, Becky’s biggest canine fan. PHOTO COURTESY OF JULIE SHAPIRO

BY KRISTI FISH | MIRROR REPORTER — The Maumee River has been a focal point for the community, providing resources since the city’s beginning, but over time, the river’s edge became inaccessible for many. After much discussion, Maumee residents worked together with city officials to clear out the area and create a broader path for everyone.

The Towpath Trail, which is still expanding, has seen an increased number of visitors after the wider path was paved. To offer more opportunities to relax and enjoy the area, several swings have also been installed along the pathway.

Each swing is accompanied by a plaque, which has been paid for by private citizens after a donation of $3,000 or more.

The plaques memorialize, honor or celebrate members of the community and will stay in place along the path for 15 years while the city will cover the upkeep of the spaces. Each person will then have the option to renew at the cost of a current donation or decline before the space is offered to others.

For Mayor-elect Jim MacDonald, it made sense to donate funds to the city for a plaque to honor all those who have served Maumee.

“I just thought it was a great message to send to everyone that these people – city workers, volunteers, police and fire, current and former city council members, anyone that has helped the city – they really care about our town,” MacDonald said. “They’ve dedicated so much of themselves to making it better for everyone.”

Rich Gray, a longtime Maumee resident, has been familiar with the area since he was a child. It’s because of the efforts of those workers that, from his family’s swing, visitors can see the split in the river, around the Audubon Islands State Nature Preserve and the Ft. Meigs Memorial Bridge at the same time.

Citing his roots in the area, he said it made sense to pay for one of the swings and plaques on behalf of his family. It’s a place they can visit to reminisce or take family photos for years to come.

“I just felt like it was a really good idea. It’s just a nice spot,” he said.

There’s no bad location, noted Julie Shapiro, who picked out a plaque in memory of her sister, Becky Breier.

“She was the one that always put everyone else first and I just wanted to do something in memory of her,” Shapiro said. “I like to think she has had lasting effects on the people in her life and her community, so this is something lasting that will remind people of her.”

Schapiro’s hope is that those who walk past the swing will be reminded of Becky and will spend some time thinking of her on their walk.

The towpath is Shapiro’s happy place, she said. Now, when she goes for walks, she can pause for a few moments in nature and think of her sister – someone who was so special to her.

When Matt Frey has the time to walk the towpath or when he’s in the area mowing, he visits the plaque he purchased in memory of his mother.

“I like to take a minute when I’m done mowing this area and just stop for a minute and think about her,” Frey said.

His mother, Nancy Frey, was an advocate for the public schools and the children she served throughout her career. She also impacted her family members and friends in countless ways.

In order to represent just a few of the lives she touched, Frey and his family added some of the names Nancy was affectionately called by her family and friends. The mom, grandmother, aunt and friend loved to spend her time on her porch swing or one of the many benches in her yard, so it just made sense to pick a spot like this for her, Frey said.

A place to rest and enjoy the view was a common reason many of the families purchased a plaque and swing. Years ago, when the swings and plaques were just an idea being floated around, Tracey Elmore knew she wanted to pay for one, too.

“Instead of doing it in memory or in honor of someone, we did it in celebration of my parents. They were married for 67 years,” Elmore said.

On the plaque for Howard and Pat Leffel, Elmore and her family made sure a running joke was also referenced.

“The third line, ‘Sit down, Pat!’ is because of my mom,” she explained. “She has always been the consummate hostess. There’s a Christmas story we tell, where my mom was always up, being a wonderful host, and we finally just said, “Sit down, Pat!’”

After decades of hosting, Elmore is hoping her mother will take the time she deserves to just sit and rest and let everyone else do a little bit more of the work and, when Pat can, it’s nice to take a rest on the swing in celebration of her and Howard.

“It really is time for my mom to sit down and just enjoy the view,” Elmore said. “I want other people, too, to just take time to relax and sit down there and enjoy the people that are around you.”

The Wagener family has been enjoying each other’s company down by the river for decades, too.

The 11 siblings grew up on East Wayne Street, just a few blocks from the Towpath Trail and where a swing rests in memory of three of the siblings: Patrick, Beth and Michael.

“In the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s, kids hung out here all the time,” said Deb Wagener Graham. “You stayed here until the streetlights came on.”

“For our big, extended family, every holiday we were together at my mom’s,” she added. “We would all come down here for a walk and walk all the way to the end. Almost every kid in the family would join.”

As the family grew and spread out across the country, they would still return for walks along the towpath or chats at each other’s homes.

“It’s just always been a nice place for our family,” Deb said. “We’ve been lucky enough to be close and have it be safe enough for us to come down all the time.”

Years after Mike’s adventures – and misadventures – with his younger siblings, hanging out with friends and making memories, he even used the area to hone his skills at sailing.

According to his wife, Pat Wagener, she and their son Rob were able to see the importance of the Maumee River and the people who frequent it, in Mike’s life, so a place to remember him, along with two of his siblings, was especially fitting.

“This is our safe haven. We love it down here,” Deb said. “I’m just happy to see so many other people enjoying it now, too.”

When those people walk, bike or scooter down the wide pathways, they can stop to learn more about the people who have made each swing possible, while they rest and enjoy the view.

The rest of the lower Towpath Trail, from Conant Street to Side Cut Metropark, is currently under construction, and swings with plaques will also be made available in that area, too.

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