Faith, family, friends. These three principals are at the “root” of the Drake Goetz Memorial Park, which was officially dedicated on Saturday, Oct. 2, in Huntington County.
The park, which sits in the countryside and is surrounded by bean and cornfields, came to fruition through the friendship between two local boys – Drake Goetz and Carter Mertz. The pair were, according to many friends and family members, nearly inseparable, even as toddlers. According to the Drake Goetz Memorial Park website, they were, in many ways, “more like brothers than just friends” and that they shared many similar interests, including church, school, church camp, athletics and more.
In November of 2017, Drake was involved in an off-road vehicle accident that took his life at just 15 years old. Shortly after his passing, family members and friends started to discuss ideas of how they could honor his memory in a way that would also benefit the community. After much consideration, the idea for the park was born. And one of the most important factors was that the park needed to be an all-inclusive park, so that people of any age and any ability could enjoy it. The park sits on some of the very land that Drake and Carter used to play together.
During the dedication ceremony, Drake’s uncle, Ron Goetz, spoke to those who gathered at the park and thanked those who were involved in getting the park built, whether it be through donations of money, time or equipment.
“This was not a program or a project that just happened,” Ron said. “This was a lot of work by a lot of people and we’re just so incredibly thankful.”
Ron explained that there were different levels of sponsorship for the park and read the names of each sponsor. Plaques have been created that will be displayed around the park with the different names of the citizens and businesses that sponsored the park. They were:
• Anthony Wayne Services.
• Bruce and Dianna Mertz.
• CenterPoint Energy.
• Huntington County Helps.
• The James Foundation.
• Ted and Sarah Trout.
• Union Church.
• Duke Energy.
• Huntington County Commissioners.
• Huntington County Community Foundation.
• Pathfinder Services.
• Phil and Jeanne Pasko.
• Wayne and Phyllis Fox.
• Amor Excavating.
• Andy and Candee Kline.
• Brickley Construction.
• Burnau Construction.
• Cary and Kathy Groninger.
• Civilcon Pipe.
• Contech Engineered Solutions.
• Debco Metal Culverts.
• Dirt Trucking.
• Doctor Construction.
• Escalade Sports.
• Fox Excavating.
• Iron Clad Excavating.
• Irving Materials Management.
• Keller Construction.
• Kit and Anita Harrell.
• Linker Construction.
• Mitch and Melissa Mounsey.
• Modern Woodmen of America.
• Mueller-Sherger Foundation.
• Shelli Goetz.
• Steel Dynamics, Inc.
• Teresa Hosler.
Park committee members include Bruce Mertz, Camille Kline, Cindy Truax, Dianna Mertz, Jeanne Pasko, Julie Goetz, Justin Hosler, Ron Goetz, Shelli Goetz, Todd Husband, Todd Landrum and Wayne Fox.
After thanking the sponsors and board members, Ron went on to describe Drake as a person and the inspiration behind creating an inclusive park for the community in his honor.
“As I think about Drake, he was… shy and very, very much into his friends and into his faith. He was great for one-word answers,” Ron shared. “That’s the Drake that I remember.”
Ron went on to say that each year, the Goetz family would host family reunions in Michigan, to which Drake would bring friends along.
“I would love being there on a family vacation and then here’s four or five guys that come trooping through… you guys were family,” Ron said of the friends that Drake would bring around. “Whenever I would see one, there would be the others.”
This kind of friendship that Drake had with his friends is what really got the ball rolling towards creating the park. And in May of 2018, they officially broke ground.
“Now, three years later, I am amazed to be standing in the middle of this park,” Ron said. “And even though I was kind of there from the beginning of the dreaming, and I saw the pictures and I have a really good imagination, I just never envisioned this.”
The park is open from dawn to dusk and is located at 4082N-350E, Huntington. It includes a soccer field, pickleball and basketball courts, a pavilion with benches and tables, a paved walking path and a playground with climbing equipment, swing sets and more to enjoy. In the center of the park there is a large boulder that has a plaque laid into it. The plaque reads:
“This park was built because of love, true friendship and a dream for all children to be able to play together. Our hope is that you will enjoy it as much as Drake and Carter would have. Brothers, forever, Carter Mertz and Drake Goetz.” It also features a photo of the two boys during their days as Crestview Middle School soccer players.
Future projects for the park include placing donation bricks, which will pave the path up to the park pavilion. Another project will also be fully paving the parking lot, which will cost approximately $20,000. Donations are still being accepted for this project. The park board also plans to have the park endowed.
“I just wanted to say – I think that Drake left an impact on the lives of everybody that he encountered,” Ron said. “And now, even though he is gone physically, his memory is encouraging us all to be good and to do good. He was a great friend – and the friends that he made were always with him.
“The park board would like to dedicate Drake Goetz Memorial Park today, to an idea that life is about love, and it’s about friendship, and we reflect on Drake’s life and his friendship with Carter,” Ron continued. We pray that this park will be a place for children and their families. Really, people of all ages. Anybody – to invest time in each other and to building friendships that can last a lifetime.”
To wrap up, Drake’s maternal grandfather, Mark Hoffer, said a few words and prayed over the park.
“I think people are just amazed when they come out here, and I’m blessed and I know the rest of the family and everyone involved in it are truly blessed to see people of all ages – grandmas, grandpas, clear down to newborns – it’s pretty cool,” Hoffer said. “It’s a dream that the Mertz family, I think, started, and it caught on with almost everyone here. And I still hear it – ‘I can’t believe that this is out here in the country.’ It’s a tremendous blessing and we want to thank God for that.”
More information about the park, and about Drake, may be found at drakegoetzpark.org.