A squabble over the name of a park on Hopkins Road in Amherst finally has come to a conclusion with the decision to rename it for a neighborhood hero killed while serving his country in Afghanistan.
Long known as Margaret Louise Park, recently changed to Hopkins Road Park, this park next to the state-protected wetlands of the Great Baehre Swamp has been renamed by the Town of Amherst in recognition of Army Staff Sgt. William R. “Billy” Wilson III.
Wilson grew up on Dodge Road in Getzville about a mile from the park and was fatally shot March 26, 2012, at age 27 when a member of the Afghan security forces turned his weapon on the local soldier.
His parents, Bill and Kim, are overwhelmed that the park where their son would catch snakes and sled as a kid will now bear his name.
“It was a total surprise,” Kim Wilson said.
It had been known as Margaret Louise Park for nearly a quarter-century until December, when Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein suggested a name change so residents could better identify with where the park is located.
That sparked a dispute with William L. Kindel, a former council member and town clerk, who contended that the name change to Hopkins Road Park was provoked by Weinstein because the supervisor had a political ax to grind.
Kindel, the Conservative Party chairman in Amherst, was the prime mover in transforming this old municipal dump into a safe site in 1989 and named the park in memory of his mother, Margaret, and paternal grandmother, Louise.
But when the political spat over the name began to make headlines, town officials heard another suggestion from more than a few residents:
Why not rename the park in memory of Billy Wilson?
The idea came from those in the neighborhood, specifically Kathy Weppner, Bill Sullivan and Wilson’s longtime friend David Scott Myers.
“I think it is a perfect tribute, because Billy was really known by so many people in the neighborhood,” Myers said.
“It really was Billy’s neighborhood.”
The park won’t be the only place bearing the fallen soldier’s name. In October, most of the Lockport Expressway, or Interstate 990, was renamed the Staff Sgt. William R. Wilson III Memorial Highway.
Wilson, the oldest of Bill and Kim’s three sons, graduated from Williamsville North High School in 2003.
For a couple of years, he worked at nearby Bocce Club Pizza before joining the Army in 2005.
Through all of those years, Myers said, Wilson had amassed a large circle of friends, who were known to drop by his parents’ house on Dodge Road each time he was home on leave. It became an annual party, Myers said.
Wilson left a lasting impression on them, Myers said, whether it was the leadership shown when pressed into action on the varsity lacrosse team while still a freshman, or the compassion he displayed to a childhood sweetheart as she battled advanced leukemia.
Myers doesn’t know for sure what happened on that day when Wilson approached a local police checkpoint in eastern Afghanistan but assumes that Wilson noticed trouble and went over to calm the situation.
“Knowing Billy, he wouldn’t have sent anyone over there if it was looking grim,” Myers said. “He would do it himself.”
Sullivan and Myers were ready to circulate a petition to honor the Army sergeant, but give credit to Council Member Guy R. Marlette, who took note of the suggestions to rename the park for Wilson and sponsored a resolution at this week’s Town Board meeting.
It passed unanimously.
And the timing couldn’t have been better.
Friday is Billy Wilson’s birthday.