New sign calls attention to Spiva Park

Oct. 6—There now is no mistaking a downtown Joplin park that has been obscured for some time by the shade of mature trees and overgrown shrubs.

Previously only identified by a small plaque in the ground that was not visible from the streets, the park has a new presence on the northeast corner of Fourth and Main streets as the result of an artist's work to craft a 12-foot marker that announces that it is Spiva Park.

The sign was commissioned from local artist and fabricator Jorge Leyva by the Joplin Arts District and descendants of the park's founder, George A. Spiva.

In a dedication ceremony Wednesday at the park, the arts district executive director, Linda Teeter, conveyed the sign to the city and the people of Joplin to make the park more visible and to honor the legacy of the businessman, civic leader and arts patron for whom it is named. Spiva bought the land and had the park designed and constructed to give to the city in 1966 in honor of his father.

He was the son of George N. Spiva, who started working in Joplin-area mines but became an explosives powder manufacturer for the mining industry. He ultimately sold his operation to the DuPonts. He was regarded was one of Joplin's foremost business, financial and civic leaders.

Despite the Spiva family's position in the community, Teeter said she learned in the last couple of years that many people did not know the name of Spiva Park.

"I was shocked by this," Teeter said. "But the park itself should have had a name that stood out."

That lack of identity became the inspiration for a project she led this year to renovate the city park and to commission the sign.

"One of the things I never understood is why there was never a sign here," she said. "But the more I learned about George A. Spiva, who designed and built the park, the more I realized that his spirit was about being quiet," allowing the community to enjoy the park without fanfare.

She felt that it was time that one of Spiva's important contributions to Joplin be recognized. She and the arts district board worked with Spiva's family to renovate the park.

Fundraising was conducted to commission the sign from Leyva, who is known for his community art projects. Spiva's grandchildren contributed to the effort. Leyva also is a friend of the Spiva family.

"It was a real honor to be able to participate in the project," Leyva said. While there wasn't a visible marker in the park before, "now it seems like nobody is going to miss it. And it's important because it is something Joplin has pride in and is something we all are proud of."

Mayor Doug Lawson said that "it's good Joplin has people in our city who love Joplin. They don't just think, 'It would be nice if we had such and such.' They make it happen."

Lawson said he once suggested that Missouri Southern State University be renamed Spiva University. He felt that would have been appropriate. "I knew the Spiva family had been important to Joplin since the beginning of our city" as a mining town. "Each generation of Spivas has made a significant contribution to our city."

While the front of the sign bears the Spiva name, a sculpture of an iris graces the back of the sign. The iris is not only the city flower but was a favorite of Spiva's and of his daughter, Joy Spiva Cragin, said her son, Scott Cragin.

"We would like to see the park continue to be restored to something like it was in 1966 when it was dedicated," Scott Cragin said at the ceremony. "We hope it continues to be a special place for downtown Joplin."