A wonderful community that’s for the birds

My wife and I bought our first home in the spring of 1975. It was in the Sunnymede area on the near east side of South Bend. Here we are, over 45 years later, still in our starter home. We never found any place we liked better. We never found a neighborhood that better embodied a real sense of community. 

Webster’s defines “community” as a group of people who live in the same area or a group of people who have the same interests, religion, race, etc.

But a true community is more than demographics or shared interests. It is about shared values, such as being good neighbors. That is the way I would describe the area we simply refer to as Sunnymede. Let me offer several examples, including the team-effort rescue of a great horned owl in recent days.

This owl was rescued from an entangled soccer net at School Field in South Bend. (Photo by Jim Clemenson)

When we first bought our home, the former owner had to leave town before she could appropriately prepare the house for us, the new arrivals. So, the next door neighbor took it upon herself to clean our house from top to bottom. She didn’t know us. Didn’t have any incentive to take on this task. It was all in the spirit of generosity and provide an appropriate welcome to a new neighbor.

A few years later, a once-in-a-century blizzard hit the area – now affectionately known as “the blizzard of ’78.” For four days, all of the neighbors banded together to dig out from under four feet of snow that had fallen in 24 hours. Each day when the work was done we retired to one of the neighbor’s homes for a group dinner (and more than a few bottles of wine).

We raised our kids here. Those kids developed friendships with other neighborhood kids; friendships that have lasted a lifetime. Although many have moved on to have children of their own and are scattered all over the country and beyond, when they come home, it often turns into a neighborhood family reunion. 

Now, about that heroic effort to save an owl that got trapped in a soccer net at School Field, next to Jefferson Traditional School. I wasn’t present but here is an abbreviated version of the situation as described by Ken Smith on the Sunnymede Neighborhood Association Facebook page:

“… A great horned owl, successfully hunting a rabbit in School Field the other day, got tangled in a soccer net and was unable to escape. A small group of passersby, people of beautiful generosity, stopped what they were doing, located some heavy gloves and oven mitts and a pair of scissors and a beach towel, wrapped the owl safely in the towel and painstakingly cut the string net away from its body for the better part of an hour. 

“They were kneeling, leaning in, sometimes leaning or backing away to give the owl a chance to relax and for their own safety — the talons and beak of this huge owl were notable. Eventually they seemed to have all the netting cut away, but the owl wouldn’t move, and upon closer inspection there was more net to remove from under the feathers at the owl’s neck. 

“Still the bird wouldn’t stand up or fly, and it was decided to place the owl in the blanket in a box so it could be moved away from the area … A local ranger came out, agreed to take the owl to a wildlife rescue group in Valpo … “

Sunnymede residents watch the release of a great horned owl after it had been nursed back to good health. (Photo by Jim Clemenson)

Fortunately, the owl recovered and was returned to School Field this week to be re-released. A significant number of neighborhood residents came out to celebrate the occasion and the good deeds of the people who rescued this magnificent bird. 

In this case, the spirit of lending a helping hand was for the benefit of a trapped bird, but it also speaks to the caring spirit of the neighborhood. The spirit of a true community.