- Associated Press - Sunday, April 26, 2015

HASTINGS, Neb. (AP) - A much-beloved outdoor metal rocket ship will touch down on a new frontier this week.

The 500-pound playground apparatus, which is believed to have graced Chautauqua Park (formerly Prospect Park) since the 1960s, was removed about a month ago by city officials after it was deemed unsafe for children to play on. It was purchased recently by Stephen Marian, 59, an Overland Park, Kansas, professional chauffeur whose family has long ties to Hastings.

Marian, whose family name is emblazoned on Marian Road city street signs, had been dropping hints for years to Jeff Hassenstab, parks and recreation director, that he’d be interested in purchasing the aging relic. When the decision was reached to finally remove the well-rusted piece of equipment for safety reasons, Hassenstab contacted Marian, who was all-to-happy to take it off his hands for an asking price of less than $400.

“When I first asked Jeff if the city wanted to sell it, the answer I got at the time was no,” Marian said. “I thought, ‘Well, we’ll just kind of keep after it a little bit.’ I’d drop by notes when I’d come up to visit my aunts and uncles and see if it was still there.”

A native of Lincoln who also lived in Omaha, Marian would frequent the park during visits with family members with his now grown children, Alison, 32, and Geoff, 28, who were but 5 or 6 years old at that time. His fondest memories of those visits included watching the rocket launch their imaginations skyward. And that was his motivation to purchase it, he said.

“Strictly sentimental reasons,” he said. “There’s no logical reason for me to do it other than sentimental value. We always had picnics in that corner of the park when we came to visit, and my mom and dad were still alive.”

Scarred by rust and graffiti, the rocket had simply outlived its worth as a public playground apparatus, Hassenstab said. The decision to remove it was nevertheless bittersweet, the Hastings Tribune (https://www.hastingstribune.com/ ) reports.

“It was in rough shape,” Hassenstab said. “It was rusted out, so we could no longer keep it. We’re going to replace those types of equipment with things that meet the safety codes with our insurance carrier.

“We know the history behind it and that it had been in that park forever. The public was disappointed to see it go and we are too, but as a city, we can’t afford the risk anymore of keeping those around.”

A plan to replace all outdated and potentially dangerous equipment in the city’s parks is slated to begin in May at Libs Park, Hassenstab said.

“Our goal in the near future is to try to add new full-sized playground equipment about once every three years,” he said. “There are multiple things youths can do and we’ll look at everything and put in new and interactive equipment that is much more safe than what we have.”

Marian rented a pickup truck to haul the rocket home but learned upon arriving that it was too small for the job. He opted to take the front section home with him and will collect the rest another day.

Already his wife, Kathy, has nixed any thought of utilizing the rocket as a front lawn ornament, he said. Instead, he’ll store it in his two-car garage for the time being until he is able to refinish it and place it in a less conspicuous location in his backyard.


Information from: Hastings Tribune, https://www.hastingstribune.com

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