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Colfax names J.D. Simons Memorial Park

By LeAnn R. Ralph

COLFAX  —  Colfax has a new park — the J.D. Simons Memorial Park.

Well, it’s not really a new park — it’s a new name for a park that has not previously been named.

The Colfax Village Board approved naming the park where Eighteen Mile Creek empties into the Red Cedar River the J.D. Simons Memorial Park at the June 27 meeting.

J.D. Simons is credited with being the founder of Colfax. He built a cabin on the shores of Eighteen Mile Creek in 1867 and built a grist mill on the creek two years later.

J.D.’s wife, Mary Simons, also played an important role in the community. She opened a dry goods store out of their home where she sold calico, needles, thread and other sewing items.

J.D. Simons homesteaded the land where the village of Colfax is located today.

At one time, Colfax was known as Begga Town because of the rutabagas that were grown, and J.D. Simons also was a farmer who planted rutabagas.

Rutabagas grow especially well on land that has recently been cleared of trees.

J.D. Simons served as the postmaster in Colfax from 1872 until 1894.

During the Colfax Sesquicentennial in 2014, part of the celebration included placing at gravestone at Hill Grove Cemetery for J.D. Simons.

For reasons that will probably always remain a mystery, a gravestone was never placed at J.D.’s final resting place when he died in 1918.

J.D. Simons passed away in the state of Washington after the milk truck he was riding on swerved to miss a car and overturned.

His grandson took the train to Washington to accompany J.D.’s body back to Colfax.

The events surrounding J.D.’s death and his funeral are documented in articles published in the Colfax Messenger in May of 1918.

By all accounts prior to and after his death, J.D. Simons was a beloved, kindly man, a business man and entrepreneur, and a staunch and proud supporter of Colfax.

Prior to the Sesquicentennial Celebration, there was even some question as to exactly where J.D. Simons was buried.

The article in the Colfax Messenger published in 1918 said that after his funeral, mourners followed the casket to Oak Grove Cemetery.

Unfortunately, there is no Oak Grove Cemetery anywhere in the vicinity.

As luck would have it, former administrator-clerk-treasurer Jackie Ponto was searching through old village records looking for a burial permit for a person working on a family genealogy when she came across a burial permit for John D. Simons.

The burial permit placed J.D. Simons at Hill Grove Cemetery a short distance west of Colfax.

The editor of the Messenger at the time of J.D.’s death in 1918 was Ward Swift, who seemed quite shaken by the passing of the founder of Colfax, so perhaps “Oak Grove” Cemetery was a typographical error made absentmindedly.

Prior to the village board officially naming the park J.D. Simons Memorial Park, it was informally called Triangle Park, Flag Pole Park, Spillway Park, Sandstone Park and North Dam Park.

In 2010, the Class of 1958 started the flower garden project in the park.

The motto for the Colfax High School Class of 1958 was “Climb, though the rocks be rugged,” which seems like a highly appropriate motto for a class starting a garden project on the banks above the Red Cedar River and Eighteen Mile Creek.

Work on the flower beds started in the spring of 2010 so the garden would be there for the All-School Reunion and 100th Anniversary Celebration of Colfax High School June 11 and 12, 2010.

The idea for naming the park J.D. Simons Memorial Park came from Colfax historian Troy Knutson.

The Colfax Commercial Club is planning a dedication for the park during the Colfax Founder’s Day Main Street Block Party on August 6.

The first annual J.D. Simons Community Volunteer Award also will be presented during the Block Party on August 6.