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Coming soon: Thommie Walsh Drive?
Chet Susslin / The Citizen The entrance to Emerson Park off of Route 38A has been proposed to be named after Tony Award-winning entertainer Thommie Walsh, an Auburn area native who died in June 2007.

The Kathleen Barran / The Citizen

A proposal to name the East Lake Road entrance to Emerson Park “Thommie Walsh Drive” will be reviewed this week by a county commission.

The Cayuga County Parks & Trails Commission on Wednesday will discuss a proposal to name the entrance road after the late performing artist Thommie Walsh, the Tony Award-winning Auburn area native.

The road, which is the main entrance to Emerson Park, provides access to the parking lots near the Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, which Walsh, who died at 57 on June 16, 2007, supported in his lifetime.

Authors of the proposal said the sign would be “a key to enhancing our attractiveness as a tourism destination and also representing a sign of recognition for our own Thommie Walsh, world-renowned dancer, choreographer, director and author.”

A committee of five, including Walsh's sister, Barbara Walsh, Maryann De Masi, Valerie F. Stone, Pamela Kirkwood and former Auburn Mayor Timothy Lattimore made the proposal to the commission in a letter dated March 10.

“Thommie Walsh was unquestionably big-time, but he never forgot his roots in Cayuga County,” the letter reads. “In words, he told us on national television that we were always with him. In actions, he returned often and enthusiastically supported the MGR Playhouse by directing, by advising this theater's initial production of 'A Chorus Line' and by personally working on the theater's fund-raising activities.”

The nine-member Parks & Trails Commission will first have to decide to make any changes. If so, it would pass a resolution and forward recommendations to the Cayuga County Legislature Public Works Committee, which next meets on April 14. That committee would then recommend the change to the county Legislature for a decision on April 28. The Emerson Park Board also has to approve.

The change would be at no cost to the county but would be paid for privately. Duckett estimated the cost for making and installing the sign to be about $100.

Duckett said the commission does need to discuss some potential concerns.

“When you're in the public eye, you have to be careful,” he said. “Everything you do is scrutinized. You have to consider what everybody else is going to do.”

On its agenda for the meeting, the commission outlines a number of questions.

“What about other deserving local people, will this open a floodgate of people looking for similar recognition?” the agenda states.

Duckett said people might want to name a boat launch, bridge or other access road after loved ones.

“We're a recreational park, not a memorial park,” Duckett said.

The agenda also asks about the feelings of others who have sponsored benches and trees and paid to have plaques put up, and it said the Emerson Foundation doesn't support the concept of naming roads.

Walsh's sister, though, said the selection of the park entrance road is fitting.

“There couldn't be a more appropriate place to put it than next to the (Merry-Go-Round) theater,” Barbara Walsh said.

Thommie Walsh became nationally and globally recognized for originating the role of Bobby Mills in Broadway's “A Chorus Line.” He earned the Tony Award twice for best choreography in “A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine” and “My One and Only.” He also received Tony nominations for “Nine” (best choreography) and “My One and Only” (best direction of a musical).

He created, choreographed, staged and directed numerous shows and conducted dance workshops for youngsters nationwide. He co-authored “On the Line: The Creation of A Chorus Line” and was preparing for the Broadway musical adaptation of “A Tale of Two Cities” at the time of his death.

Walsh began his dancing career at the age of five at Irma Baker's School of Dance in Auburn. He ended up at the Boston Conservatory of Music, where he was honored posthumously with a one-of-a-kind Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award last May.

The proposal describes Thommie as “an extraordinary person, generous, very loyal, and dedicated to cultivating actors, dancers, and theater in his hometown of Auburn.”

He responded to calls from his mother, Eleanor, when she described MGR's need for financial support.

In addition to Thommie, the Walsh family life has centered around Emerson Park. Walsh's parents owned Jitch's hot dog stand, a fixture for years at the edge of the canal.

“Thommie and I spent most of our summers there,” Barbara said. “The park was, in fact, our babysitter.”

If you go

What: Cayuga County Parks Commission

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

Where: Emerson Park Conference Room

Staff writer Kathleen Barran can be reached at 253-5311 ext. 238 or kathleen.barran@lee.net

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