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The man who helped remake Charlotte uptown now has his own park

UNC Charlotte Distinguished Service Award 2013: Dennis and Betty Chafin Rash

Dennis and Betty Chafin Rash receive UNC Charlotte's Distinguished Service Award for 2013.
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Dennis and Betty Chafin Rash receive UNC Charlotte's Distinguished Service Award for 2013.

Every time he visited a new city, he always wanted to see the parks. Now, the man who helped reshape uptown has a park in his memory.

On May 10, Third Ward Neighborhood Park was renamed Dennis Rash Third Ward Neighborhood Park in honor of the man who led the development of the area. Rash died last July at 77 after fighting Parkinson’s disease.

“It’s so meaningful to me, and it would’ve been so meaningful to him because the Third Ward project was just so dear to his heart,” said Betty Chafin Rash, his widow and former Charlotte City Council member.

Hugh McColl, former CEO of Bank of America, worked with Rash for over 40 years. He said Rash took the job with the bank because it gave him the opportunity to build community both physically and socially.

“He participated totally in the development of Fourth Ward, but somehow Third Ward became his baby,” McColl said.

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A magnolia tree in the center of the park is named "Betty," the same as his wife, Betty Chafin Rash. Leah Asmelash lasmelash@charlotteobserver.com

McColl, who was also on a bank track team with Rash, remembers arguing with him about condos Rash wanted to build uptown. He said the retention of existing housing, as opposed to tearing down historic buildings, was important to Rash. But there had already been the loss of historic housing in the area. Rash wanted to use the newly cleared plots to build condos that blended with the community.

“I thought, ‘You’ll never be able to sell these condominiums along Church Street,’” McColl said. “I was wrong, of course. He was right.”

Rash served as dean of students during UNC Charlotte’s formative years in the 1970s. He then spent 23 years at what is now Bank of America, where he became the first president of the bank’s community development subsidiary.

On May 10, Third Ward Neighborhood Park was renamed Dennis Rash Third Ward Neighborhood Park in honor of the man who led the development of the area.

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The park, which is located off of West Fourth Street near Frazier Park, was known simply as “Third Ward park” and didn’t really have a prior name, said Virgina Woolard, president of the Committee to Restore and Preserve the Third Ward. Woolard thought of the idea to dedicate the park to Rash just after his funeral. She said the renaming process took about six months, but it was worth it to preserve his memory.

“It’s especially to honor him, because he was just an incredible servant to particularly the uptown and the university,” she said. “He gave and gave and gave, and there’s hardly anyone you could come up with other than Hugh McColl that made that big of an impact on our uptown neighborhood.”

The park pays homage to Rash in more ways than just its new name. There is a bike repair station for cyclists, which Chafin Rash said was one of his favorite activities. The landscape team also found a magnolia tree named Betty and planted it in the center of the park, surrounded by a myriad of flowers and shrubs, to honor Chafin Rash.

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A magnolia tree in the center of the park is named "Betty," the same as his wife, Betty Chafin Rash. Leah Asmelash lasmelash@charlotteobserver.com

“I couldn’t believe it,” she said in between laughs. “I don’t know how they found it but they did. It is amazing.”

But for her, she’s proud that the park will carry on Rash’s legacy and represents both his love for parks and Third Ward.

“It was just a thrill to me that the neighborhood led the effort in the renaming of the park,” she said. “It will be there forever, we hope. I’m sure it’ll be there long after I’m gone.”

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