On Saturday, Sept. 21, a tribute to the legacy of Olympic track and field superstar Jesse Owens in commemoration of his 100th birthday is set for the Jesse Owens Memorial Park and Museum in Oakville, Ala. The theme for the day is "One Chance Is All You Need." Celebration activities will run from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. All activities are free and open to the public.
The festivities begin with an opening ceremony that includes recognition of dignitaries, family members of Jesse Owens, and the sculptor of the park's Jesse Owens statue, Branko Medenica. He will talk about the history of the park's Jesse Owens statue from its conception to completion. Youth can compete in Olympic-style competitions -- the 100-yard dash, 200-yard dash and broad jump.
"The day will be filled with fun and activities for all attendees," says Linda Robinson, County Extension Coordinator of Lawrence County.
Free hot dogs, drinks and birthday cake will be served to those in attendance as long as supplies last.
There also will be free museum and home replica tours, conducted by park volunteers. The museum showcases rare memorabilia including programs from the 1936 Olympics, replicas of track uniforms and shoes, medals and trophies from Owens' high school days and offers interactive kiosks that highlight his life and accomplishments. While touring the home replica, visitors can listen to audio narrated by his brother Sylvester that tells of Jesse Owens' life as a sharecropper's son.
Extension has been involved in the Jesse Owens Memorial Park since its inception. James Pinion, former county Extension coordinator of Lawrence County was instrumental in working with the Lawrence County Commission and others to establish the park. Extension staff put lots of hard work into the park development to honor Jesse Owens. Current Extension staff has helped with overall planning and implementation, publicity and promotion, securing food and decorations and recruiting volunteers to assist with this celebration activities. Extension Tourism Specialist Tom Chesnutt will talk about the historic and economic opportunities the park can make to Lawrence County and the State.
The Jesse Owens Memorial Park also showcases Owens' memorials including a statue, and a 1936 torch replica and provides facilities for community use including a basketball court, baseball and softball fields, a playground, picnic tables and pavilions. Athletes can test their skills in the long jump pit to see how close they can come to Owens' 1936 Olympic gold medal distance of 26 feet, 5 5/16 inches.
Born in 1913 in Oakville, Ala., Jesse Owens moved to Cleveland, Ohio when he was 9 years old. Soon thereafter he began the transformation into an Olympic champion at age 15. During his tenure at Ohio State, he set new conference records in three events including the 100-yard dash at 9.6 seconds, the 220-yard dash at 21.0 seconds and the long jump at 24 feet 10 inches. He was also undefeated in 42 events and won four firsts at the Big Ten Championships, four in the NCAA Championship and two in the NAAU Championships.
At the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, he captured four gold medals, overcoming racial and socioeconomic barriers. In 1955, he was named Ambassador of Sports by President Eisenhower and toured the world promoting the virtues of amateur programs and served as his personal representative to the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne, Australia. In 1970, he was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
In 1976, President Gerald Ford presented Owens with the Medal of Freedom, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a civilian, saying, "Your character, your achievement, always will be a source of inspiration." In 1979, President Jimmy Carter presented him with the Living Legend Award. Jesse Owens died of lung cancer at 66.
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