Ames Council Votes to Name Skate Park for Georgie Tsushima

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Georgie Tsushima at the Ames skate park. Photo: Josh Kelley

After facing a few hurdles, the effort to name the Ames skate park for the late skater Georgie Tsushima succeeded Tuesday, with the City Council casting a unanimous vote to approve the request that was first made last summer shortly after 26-year-old’s unexpected death on the same day he opened FLC Skateshop on Lincoln Way in Campustown. “For it to be named after him, I think it’s awesome,” said Josh Kelley, who first met Tsushima at the skate park about five years ago and shot photography with him before getting into it professionally.

Earlier this year, Tsushima’s supporters packed City Hall’s council chambers at Parks and Recreation Commission and council meetings, telling personal stories about his influence on them. Local lawmakers Herman Quirmbach, a state senator, and Lisa Heddens, a state representative whose daughter Makenzie used to skate with Tsushima, also made appearances to speak in favor of the cause.

Tsushima rests while preparing FLC Skateshop. Photo: Josh Kelley
Tsushima rests while preparing FLC Skateshop. Photo: Josh Kelley

But the effort faced a potential roadblock when Parks and Rec commissioners recommended that the council establish a parks naming policy that the skate park request would fall under creating a three-year waiting period, which could be waived by the council if deemed appropriate, after the death of an “outstanding individual” before naming a city parks facility after the person. In April, the council dismissed the waiting period as arbitrary and asked city staff to come back with a revised policy (PDF), which it approved in May.

The unanimous council vote to approve the skate park naming request, which it made to applause on the heels of a unanimous recommendation from the Parks and Rec Commission last month that it do so, came after Makenzie Heddens and Tsushima’s mother, Teresa Downing-Matibag, briefly addressed the council.

Tsushima at Ledges State Park outside of Boone. Photo: Josh Kelley
Tsushima at Ledges State Park outside of Boone. Photo: Josh Kelley

Heddens read from a letter by Tsushima’s older brother, Jyoshu, that she added to. “Ames is our home, and a home is a place for nurturing growth, guiding us through life’s experiences and ultimately inspiring us to live a full life with enthusiasm and determination,” it read in part. “To accomplish this, a home must be filled with the people that symbolize our greatest aspirations.” Tsushima, the letter went on, was representative of that. He used to mentor kids at the skate park and actively pursued skateboarding outside of it, working as a professional videographer for pro skaters in California when he wasn’t busy running one of the skate shops he opened in Ames, first downtown and then in Campustown.

Downing-Matibag described renting a car and driving by herself to California, where she recently found a job, in memory of her son, through the Rockies and desert on the way. “The journey that I took was the same pathway that Georgie often took on his motorcycle when he was driving home to Ames,” she said. “And every step along the way, especially as I was going through the Rockies, I found myself in awe of the beauty. And I found myself talking to him and saying, ‘Georgie, I can’t believe you did this on your bike. This is incredible.’ And every single day was a blessing; every single day was a moment to reflect on my son’s life.”

The skate park is currently undergoing a renovation that began last month and was expected to last six to eight weeks before its completion sometime in September. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is planned at a yet-to-be-determined date afterward.

Tsushima at the Ames skate park. Photo: Josh Kelley
Tsushima at the Ames skate park. Photo: Josh Kelley
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Gavin Aronsen is an editor and reporter for and founding member of the Iowa Informer. He previously worked as a city reporter for the Ames Tribune, research assistant to investigative journalist Wayne Barrett at the Village Voice, and in various roles at Mother Jones, where his work contributed to a National Magazine Award nomination for the magazine's digital media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Email: garonsen [at] iowainformer [dot] com.