The most grassroots community in Detroit? Grandmont Rosedale abounds in homegrown outlets

Disclaimer: The author grew up in Grandmont Rosedale. His father, Frank Lanzilote, appears in this piece.

Mary Madigan was frustrated. As her children left home for college and work, she had more time to stroll the verdant, tree-lined streets near her North Rosedale Park home — and to notice the litter blowing through the neighborhood. 

Aggravated, she brought together a group of neighborhood residents who quickly realized the only way to stop the liter from piling up was to roll up their sleeves and pick it up themselves. That's how The Fun Litter Pick-Up Club (FLPC) was founded. The group meets once a month to pick up litter and undertake other street beautification projects in North Rosedale Park. 

Detroit is a city known for its DIY culture, but Grandmont Rosedale, a collection of five neighborhoods on the city's northwest side, is known for its numerous homegrown outlets. The community boasts a 45-year-old art fair, a 27-year-old baseball league, an 88-year-old annual June Day community picnic, a 65-year-old community theater group, a 60-block garage sale, and more. 

In February of 2017, Ms. Madigan added the FLPC to the roster numerous other clubs, leagues, and events organized by grassroots volunteers in the community.

200 bags of trash

Before every outing, the Fun Litter Pick-Up Club meets at Always Brewing Coffee on Grand River Avenue where they drink coffee while catching up on each other's lives. "That's the fun part," Madigan says. 

Mary Madigan
On a recent sun-drenched Thursday evening, the group turned their attention to a derelict traffic island on Warwick Street. Members brought hosta plants growing outside their homes to beautify the small gardens at either end of the intersection, pulled weeds, planted roses, and filled in a large trench left in the grass by a snow plow. "People keep coming because it's a part of why they moved to the neighborhood in the first place," says Madigan. "They were drawn by its spirit of community activism."

In a little over a year of existence, Madigan estimates the group has picked up more the 200 bags of garbage. Additionally, many in the group have adopted the blocks they live on for weekly pick-ups. Their names are posted on brightly colored sticky notes posted on a map inside Always Brewing Coffee. 

She sees the club as part of an effort to fight negative stereotypes about Detroit. "I want to surprise people with the cleanliness and beauty of the neighborhood."

A major little league

In 1991, Ken Schneider and a group of local parents shuttled neighborhood kids to Livonia every week to play baseball for two seasons. (I was one of those kids.) During a postseason barbecue, he asked those in attendance, "Why don't we do this ourselves?"

In less than a year, Schneider and a group of local parents founded the Grandmont Rosedale Little League and signed up more than 300 players. "People in this neighborhood are really very good at organizing things," Schneider says. 

Every year starts with an opening day parade through the neighborhood with floats, a fire truck, a high school marching band, and each team marching behind a banner bearing their team's name. Schneider estimates that 600 different teams have marched behind those banners.

 Players in the dugout at Stoepel Park No. 1

The Monarchs play the Star in the Grandmont Rosedale Little League's senior division
The league boasts a set of successful travel teams that have won many little league district tournaments over the years. Dozens of former players have gotten scholarships to play college ball and a handful have even been drafted into the majors.

The night before 2018 opening day, Frank Lanzilote is so exhausted he can barely speak. For almost three decades, he's been organizing everything from umpires to the delivery of the port-a-potty as league president. This year, he waited at Stoepel Park No. 1 until 9 p.m. for this year's delivery. It never came. 

Over the 27 years, Grandmont Rosedale baseball has taken place at Stoepel No. 1, which has turned from a run down and overgrown park to a thriving neighborhood meeting place. 

Lanzilote estimates that the league has brought over a million dollars in investment to the park. "Stoepel, when the league started, was in ruins," he says. "The grass was hip high and fires got set in the outfield and the junk cars [were left there]." 

Since then, the diamonds have been moved and fenced in, cinder block dugouts constructed, and, when nearby Redford High School was demolished, the league pilfered the school's metal bleachers. Additionally, the league has gotten grants to build a paved walking path, parking lot, and multiple stormwater collecting rain gardens filled with flowers. The Grandmont Rosedale Development Corporation built a new playground and had artist Hubert Massey install eight mosaics on the dugouts. 

A growth spurt at 65

Archie Lynch wanted to find out if he could do it. On a whim, he auditioned for a roll in the Park Players' 2014 production of "Guys and Dolls." Before he knew it, he was on stage as a cast member of the decades-old theater group. Today he is the group's president.

In 1947, a group of Grandmont Rosedale residents decided that downtown Detroit shouldn't be the only destination for theater in the city and started putting on shows at the North Rosedale Park Community House. By 1953, they had officially formed the Park Players. "The idea was that the community could entertain itself," says Lynch. 

Recently they've have tackled shows such as "Through the Looking Glass," "Twilight: Los Angeles," "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," "Shrek: The Musical," and "Sister Act," bringing together volunteer actors, directors, set designers, and stage managers from Grandmont Rosedale and the surrounding area.

Benjamin Feliciano has his Shrek makeup applied by Park Players director, wardrober, and make-up artist Barbara Weisserman

Sydnie Solomon plays the dragon during a performance of "Shrek: The Musical"
In the last year, they left the North Rosedale Park Community House and moved into the much larger Redford Theater several miles west of the neighborhood. While rising rents forced them to look for a new home, the move turned out to be a blessing. At their former home, audience capacity was limited to around 160, whereas at The Redford they average about 400. 

The much larger stage has forced the group into an uncomfortable question: Are we a community theater or a professional theater? "Shrek: The Musical," their most recent production, would seem to suggest they're moving in a professional direction. From set design, to makeup, to lighting, to the large cast (over 33), the musical was exceptionally polished for an all-volunteer organization. 

Lynch describes the group as a "breeding ground … for people looking to get that first professional show. We bring em' up, teach them how to do it, and then they leave us."

Carmen Cooper, who was the lead in the Park Players production of "Sister Act" recently made her debut in Detroit Public Theater's Marie and Rosetta. 

Still, Lynch sees room to grow. "We're gonna screw some things up," he says when asked about the group’s future. "But, you know, hopefully that's all part of our learning experience and we will become a better organization for it."

Photos by Anthony Lanzilote
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