Park named after North Magnolia leader

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Posted June 4, 2021 | By Beth Whitehead, Special to the Ocala Gazette

Years ago, MaryLee Hershberger was instrumental in establishing Merchant’s Park on the corner of North Magnolia Avenue and Jacksonville Road.

After the longtime Ocala artist and business owner died of COVID-19 in December, an effort to rename the park in her honor got underway.

In March, Merchant’s Park officially became MaryLee Hershberger Park. The dedication was held on March 12, her birthday. Hershberger would have been 84.

Her husband, Floyd, is thankful to have the pocket park next to his family business, BJ Trophies, named after his wife.

Jaye Baillie, the executive director of the Marion Cultural Alliance, talked to Floyd about renaming the park. Soon after, the Ocala City Council approved the move.

“It’s really neat having her legacy remembered with the park out there because it is something that she was very passionate about and very excited that they were going to do it…” Floyd said. “That park is something that really exists probably because of her passion for it.”

About twenty years ago, the City of Ocala rebuilt portions of North Magnolia Avenue. In the process, a little patch of land on the corner of North Magnolia and Jacksonville Road was left behind.

“She and I both were very adamant about maintaining it as a park, and that’s what happened,” Floyd said.

Seeing a group of kids tossing balls back and forth in the park named after his wife brings a smile to his face.

[Carlos Medina/Ocala Gazette]

MaryLee was a founding member of the Marion Art League as well as the North Magnolia Business District.

She pushed for the formation of the NMBD after a customer told her that he asked a nearby business where BJ Trophies was located, and the neighbor had never heard of them.

MaryLee and Floyd founded BJ Trophies in 1977. The company is now owned by their son, Brian.

“It was her artistic abilities and my handcrafting stuff that kind of worked together to build the business to what it is today,” Floyd said.

MaryLee always had a pencil in her hand, even in her last days. Art was her delight. She loved to work with pen and ink as well as acrylic. Portraits were a favorite of hers, said her daughter Lee. In addition to faces, she loved to paint landscapes and animals.

“In the last few years,” Floyd said, “She did a lot of inkwork of various places and buildings around Ocala: the gazebo and the train station and a lot of the older houses in the historic center.”

MaryLee enjoyed visiting and supporting the local shops and restaurants, Lee said.

“She did a lot for the city and a lot for Magnolia and for the Merchant’s Association. Today for the first time, I looked out there and there are kids playing all over the park,” she said.

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