Lovie Watson is a name familiar to many people in Arkansas City.
But while many might know her name because of a local park, her legacy lives on through her extensive family.
Watson was a pillar of the African-American community in Arkansas City for most of her life.
While she had 10 biological children, there were many more who loved her like a mother.
“Not only did she raise her own children, but several others considered her to be mom or would go to her for advice,” her grandson, Ed Watson, said in an interview this week.
Lovie Watson was born in 1902 in Whoatly, Arkansas. She came to Arkansas City in 1929.
At that time, she and her husband had seven children. They ultimately had 10 — five girls and five boys.
Her first child was born in 1918 and the youngest in 1935.
However, her husband abandoned the family in 1939, leaving Watson to raise the children on her own.
Ed Watson said his grandmother raised her children “with great difficulty and trepidation. She really just relied on God.”
Her oldest son quit school in order to help to support the family, according to Ed Watson.
Lovie Watson had expectations of her children — that they do the right thing and that they live up to certain standards.
“To people on the outside, they saw her as kind and loving,” said Ed Watson.
But coupled with that love, she also was capable of being stern.
“She had to be, to raise all those boys,” Ed Watson said with a chuckle.
Some of Lovie Watson’s family was involved in the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s.
Local news reports told of how some of them joined the fight to allow African-Americans into the Paris Park Pool.
Lovie Watson’s son, Virgil Watson Sr., was one of them. He eventually became mayor of Ark City in 1979.
“Mother Watson,” as Lovie sometimes was called, lived in the 700 block of North Fifth Street, not far from the park that now bears her name.
She attended St. James Church of God in Christ, where one of her sons later became pastor.
Ed Watson recalls spending his afternoons with her, every day after school let out.
“She was such a mega-presence, there isn’t just one story (that stands out),” he said. “I think the truth is she made everyone feel like they were the most important thing in her world at the moment that they were interacting with her. Everyone thought that they were her favorite.”
“Preachers came from all over the country to get her advice,” Watson added. “There were lots of people that stayed at the house.”
Lovie Watson Park
Lovie Watson died in 1981, but not before the park at 614 W. Birch Ave. was named after her.
“She was alive when the park was named after her, which was a big deal at the time,” said Ed Watson.
The dedication of Lovie Watson Park took place June 5, 1971 — a day that was proclaimed “Lovie Watson Day” by the City Commission.
Adjacent to the south is the Northwest Community Center, a building that stands as another landmark of the Civil Rights era.
Lovie Watson’s descendants now live in many different states, but her legacy lives on through them.
“Every time there’s a family gathering, somebody reads ‘the creed,’” said Ed Watson.
She used these words to live by and they are referred to as her creed, although they actually were penned by a man named Ron DeMarco:
“I have dreamed many a dream that never came true, but I have had enough dreams come true to make me forever believe in dreams and keep on dreaming.
“I have prayed many a prayer that was never answered, but enough of my prayers have been answered to make me forever believe in prayer and keep on praying.
“I have trusted many a person that failed me, but I have found enough true friends to make me believe in humanity and keep on trusting.
“I have fought many a battle and lost, but I have won enough battles to make me believe in struggle and keep on fighting.
“I have fought many a poor lesson which ashamed me, but I have seen enough hearts touched and lives changed to make me forever believe in teaching and keep on trying.”