The late Frank Meeker, who was nothing if not competitive, would have appreciated the competition between Palm Coast and Flagler County to commemorate his memory, even if the competition is more circumstantial than intentional. Both governments are about to separately name soccer fields and plant monuments in his name, so there may be a bit of confusion when soccer players will refer to Frank Meeker Field: one will be at the Indian Trails Sports Complex (claimed by Palm Coast but co-owned with the school board) the other at Wadsworth Park off State Road 100.
Even in memorials to immortality, the two rabidly rival governments are loath to cooperate in a joint gesture.
Meeker died on July 22 of cancer at age 61. He served a near-equal number of years on each government–from 2007 to 2012 on the Palm Coast City Council, and from 2012 to July 22, when he died, on the county commission, where he enjoyed himself a lot more because he could get a lot more done, with fewer administrative hurdles in his way. He left his mark on both governments, not least through the innumerable students he coached, and who respect no absurd boundaries between local governments. It is those alumni of Meeker’s fields who led the efforts to keep his name near the grass he loved most.
A few days after Meeker died Palm Coast Mayor Jon Netts was approached by one of Meeker’s earliest soccer stars. “She was anxious for the city to do something to remember Frank,” Netts, who served five years with Meeker, said at an Aug. 2 meeting of the city council. “Her suggestion was the planting of a tree in Central Park or some place, and then shortly thereafter I was approached by another citizen with a different idea, since Frank’s greatest passion, other than civic involvement, was soccer, that we might want to consider naming one of our soccer fields after him.”
The city will do both. Field 3 at Indian Trails Sports Complex will be named for Meeker in a ceremony on Sept. 27 at 6 p.m. (near the main entrance and adjacent to the concession stand on the soccer field side of the complex). On Oct. 4, the city will dedicate a Crepe Myrtle tree and garden at Central Park—Meeker had a thing for flowers, which he tended to capture with a camera—at 6 p.m. on Oct. 4.
Either at the foot of the tree or at the soccer field, the memorials will also include a plaque with a motto Meeker repeated to his soccer players, and that Robin Williams made famous in his 1989 role in “Dead Poets Society,” with which Meeker clearly identified: carpe diem, Latin for Seize the Day (which is also the title of Saul Bellow’s 1956 novel, the much darker story of a failed salesman reckoning with his limitations, which also starred Robin Williams three years before Dead Poets.)
The phrase, Kayla Klufas, one of the students Meeker coached, told the council, was “something that he would say to us frequently at practice or before a really tough game.” She spoke with fellow-former-player Amy Harrington at her side. “He said those words all the time.”
And of course lived them. Klufas, now grown and married—she is the wife of Palm Coast City Council candidate Nick Klufas—will be among the speakers at the soccer field dedication on Sept. 27.
“We will seize the day,” Netts said. “We have done tree memorials in the past and we have named one of our soccer fields in the past for a great proponent of the sport, so neither one is without precedent.” On June 23, 2012, when Meeker was still on the council but eying his election to the commission, he was among the council members who gathered at Field Number 4 to dedicate a field to the memory of Ed Herrera, who pioneered team soccer for children in Flagler and Palm Coast in the late 1970s. His team won the 1977 Florida State Youth Soccer Association Championship in an undefeated season.
Herrera’s passion for the game “caught on with young athletes and soccer continued to explode in our community,” Netts said at the time, words that anticipated the path Meeker would take along the same blades of grass. “Since those early days, thousands of players now enjoy the game all year long, right here at this Sports Complex. Not only do we proudly support our own local players, but teams from across the entire Northeast region travel here just to play on our fields. The Indian Trails Sports Complex is swiftly making a name for itself across Florida’s soccer community, another tribute to the Herrara legend.”
Palm Coast and Flagler County will each commemorate Meeker’s memory on separate soccer fields.
And now, the Meeker legend.
The council’s motion to do a field dedication and a tree in Meeker’s name passed 5-0, but not without a judicious point by Council member Jason DeLorenzo (who, like Meeker, is resigning his council seat to contend for a county commission seat). DeLorenzo pointed out what no one else did: that the council was easily voting for commemorating one of its own when it had on several occasions in the past refused to do the same for others—including one of its own.
“We have on occasion not done this for someone when it was asked of us before by the public, and it feels a little uncomfortable,” DeLorenzo said, thinking of the late Jerry Full, who had served on the earliest city council until Netts defeated him in 2001. “I think we all understand the reasons why we wish to do this for Mr. Meeker, but we should probably put some criteria in place for the future.”
Palm Coast’s most famous resident and a figure of historical importance to the nation, the late Shirley Chisholm—the first black woman elected to Congress, in 1968, the first to run for president—got a posthumous Presidential Medal of Freedom last year. But Palm Coast so far has refused to so much as name a street after her (though she was infamously thrown out of one of its movie theaters).
“It kind of makes me think that we don’t really have a policy or any type of direction on how we actually go about naming things or commemorating people who’ve made a difference in this community,” DeLorenzo had said at the council, without mentioning names. “And I think that’s probably something we should work on, put together some set of criteria that we can fall back on to make sure that when we do commemorate someone, we do it fairly for all persons.”
Around the same time, Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey was contacted by residents to make something happen from the county’s side in Meeker’s memory. On Aug. 15, Becky Mitchell, who takes after Ed Herrera and Meeker—she’s been league administrator of Flagler County Soccer at Wadsworth Park since 1990—addressed the commission about a memorial at those fields. “He was a very big part of our community for many years and he helped us move it forward, he helped us advance to where we are now with some of this stuff going on at Indian Trails [Sports Complex] and our own park as well,” Mitchell said of Meeker.
“He was coaching for our organization when he was diagnosed, he called me very hurtful and upset and told me he had to take care of himself for a little bit but was optimistic about coming back and so were we,” she continued. “He was a mentor, he was a friend to this community for a long time, he’s been a coach to many young people over the years here in the county, and a great friend to me for the past 18 years that I’ve known him. He’s taken our children to game after game, cheered them on, loudly.”
Of course, she had the commission at “Frank.”
Flagler County will have a dedication at Wadsworth Park in one or two months, a county spokesperson said today in an email. “There will be a coquina monument there with an 18 x 14 bronze plaque with his likeness and some wording. That has been ordered but it takes five weeks or so for it to be created/delivered.” The spokesperson also noted: “Palm Coast is doing its dedications to Frank Meeker on their own.”
“I think Frank’s soul will reside in the soccer fields,” Flagler County Sheriff Jim Manfre said, remembering how he’d originally met Meeker on a soccer field.
Casey Arnold more directly illustrated Meeker’s meaning to soccer players back in the day. She was one of his players. “Just so you guys know how much influence he had on us,” she told commissioners, struggling to keep her composure, his wife “Debbie had actually allowed us to invade their house completely, without his knowledge. We had planned a surprise slumber party at his house with 18 girls, mind you teenagers, from 14 to 16. Debbie helped us plan it. He had no clue so that night at practice of course we’re all completely not paying attention. He’s getting frustrated with us, not knowing the outcome of that night. So of course that night after he heads home, there’s like one on the stairs, a couple in the kitchen, the living room, we’re just sprawled throughout the house. We kept him up almost all night, we drank all his coffee, which if you know Frank is bad, we I think had a food fight that we cleaned up most of, we put toothpaste on the boys’ door which probably still has a permanent spot on the door, we got him to go down the stairs, face first, on his belly, in a sleeping bag, which was probably not the best thing for a grown man to do, but that’s the kind of person that we got to see as players, too. He wasn’t just the coach to us. He was a father, a friend, a confidant, an adviser. All that.”
Meeker must be smiling.