Walkers and talkers from all walks of life find an oasis in the middle of Green Valley.
On most weekday mornings with good weather, a group of walkers and talkers – the self-proclaimed Star Lake Gang – meets at Star Lake in the heart of the Green Valley neighborhood to, in one member’s words, “solve the world’s problems in a lap or two.” They might seem to have little in common beyond a love of walking. Wes Smith, for example, is in his 70s and is a retired BellSouth employee who worked on lines and even climbed poles to help keep the lines of communication open for his customers. Ninety-year-old Polly Gilmore is a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who is a dynamo of sorts, still working vigorously in her yard. Jessie Lien is a busy mom and cake decorator. And Leslie Stamps is a retired pharmaceutical rep and microbiologist who is now active in her church and a professional shopper. Their common ground? The path around the scenic lake, where exercise is just a byproduct of the laughter-filled walks they share.
Wes laments about wrangling with a piece of lawn equipment. Polly chimes in with her love of working in her yard, reflecting on what life was like before most modern conveniences came along. For kicks, she brought an old wash board to show the group, saying, “This is how we washed our clothes before the washing machines came along.” When Polly was turning 88 a few years ago, the group surprised her with balloons, cupcakes, flowers and a gift card. Since then, they have celebrated each group member’s birthday with a celebration, which often culminates in a breakfast at the nearby Chick-fil-A.
Member Janet Richardson was instrumental in procuring the English swans, named Gordon and Gertie, for the lake. Each year, the group watches for one of Gordon and Gertie’s eggs to hatch. Some mornings, the swans swim alongside the group members as they walk. In the spring, the group watches ducklings skim along the lake’s surface with their mothers. Geese, starlings, turtles and an occasional crane round out the wildlife that’s become as much a part of the Star Lake Gang as the group members themselves.
As for me, my time at the lake started years before I joined the gang. When my boys were small, they fished, biked, walked and played there. One year, the lake was drained for cleaning. It was dry and cracked, and we joked it looked like the surface of the moon. The boys had a blast exploring it. They are now young men living in other places, but I continue to gravitate to Star Lake, where precious memories from years ago have given way to new ones—and new friendships with other Hoover residents who find refuge along its banks.
The Star Lake we know today exists because of the man who donated it to the community so long ago. William Hoover, who owned Employers Insurance, bought 680 acres near Montgomery Highway to develop a community primarily for his employees in the late 1950s. In addition to donating the land where Star Lake sprung up, he donated the land to the Jefferson County School System on which Green Valley Elementary stands. He also donated the land where the Hoover Country Club golf course sits. While the club is private, Star Lake – so named because of the star-shaped island at its center – is a public park, open to all who want to visit and enjoy the serenity and the beauty of the lake. In the spring flowering trees adorn the rim of the water. In the fall the lake is surrounded with colors bursting from the fall leaves. It’s a place to exercise, clear your head and connect with others.
Star Lake Gang members range from 40-90 years old, but no true limits exist. The only requirement for membership is a friendly attitude. They share their stories—of thriving through the Depression, of coping with family illnesses, of healing from the loss of loved ones. They share their prayer needs, their worries, their heartaches. And they share a sense of community they never expected to find by a small neighborhood lake. “Imagine, it’s taken me into my 80s and 90s to meet some of the best friends of my life,” Polly says. These friends from different walks of life are now walking through life—and around Star Lake—together.
Brenda Ladun is a news anchor at ABC 3340 and a published author.