For 23 years, Donna Birkhold walked to work around the corner from her Clawson home on Fisher Court, where she lived for more than 45 years with her husband Bob, to the bank on Main Street in her high heels, venturing back home during her lunch break to let her dogs out and again at the end of the day.
On Tuesday, a new bench was unveiled in front of that same bank — now a — donated to the city by the Birkholds' daughters Kathy Birkhold, Karen Simpson and Bobbie Morgan in honor of their parents. All the sisters braved Tuesday's heat and sun to participate in the event.
“They just loved Clawson,” Clawson resident Kathy Birkhold said about her parents. “My mom always talked about having a bench and when she died last September I wanted to do it for her and my mad who died back in 2003.”
A plaque on the bench is inscribed with Donna's and Bob’s names to allow everyone who sits on it to know it was purchased in their memory. Birkhold said she originally wanted the bench to be placed at the corner of Fisher and Main because that was where the family gathered to watch holiday parades, but when she was told she could not place the bench there, she knew it had to go outside of the bank.
“I think it’s a great location because my mother worked for so long at the bank and because it’s by a bus stop,” Birkhold explained. “My mom didn’t learn how to drive until her 50s, so she relied on buses for a long time.”
Another reason was that the bench would still be on the parade route, so families could sit on the bench while they watched Clawson’s Memorial Day and Fourth of July parades go by.
“Fourth of July was an all-day affair for our family,” said Birkhold. “We would gather at my parents' house, dad would grill us breakfast, then we’d go see the parade, then we’d go back to the house and the kids would go to the park and enjoy the rides and we would stay late to watch the fireworks.”
PNC Bank’s branch manager Matt Goodwin attended Tuesday's unveiling ceremony and was pleased with how the bench looked in front of the bank.
“I think it looks great,” he said. “It’s also a wonderful tribute to the community and a great gift back to someone who loved the bank and worked at it for so many years.
Goodwin said he thought the bench will be a good spot for his employees to come during their breaks to experience Clawson and enjoy the outdoors.
“We are very honored that the Birkhold family would remember us with their gift,” said Clawson DDA Director Joan Horton, who was also at the unveiling and guided Kathy Birkhold in purchasing the $1,581 bench. “I think it shows that a great part of the city is the people and it’s the people that make the city so special.”
Horton said she believes the timing of the bench’s unveiling is quite significant because it comes the week before the big 4th of July of parade. “I know it will get quite the workout,” she said.
In addition to donating the bench, the Birkhold sisters also purchased two bricks that will go next to their father’s brick downtown.
“Mom bought the brick for Dad’s birthday back in 1995 to celebrate him living in Clawson for 30 years,” Simpson said after the small group gathered for the unveiling made their way up Main to see where it was and where the new ones will be placed.
Horton explained that Bob’s brick was part of downtown’s original streetscape. She said the two new Birkhold bricks, one of which was donated in honor of Donna and the other her daughters, are the first bricks to be purchased since the city begin again selling bricks. All the proceeds from the $60 bricks will go toward improvements and new developments downtown.
“They will truly be a part of downtown now,” Horton said. “I think for someone to give a gift like these shows a sense of community and how important Clawson is to the people that live here. Clawson really is a small city with a big heart.”
As Kathy Birkhold and her sisters made their way back to Clawson’s newest bench, they reminisced over where old downtown businesses used to be, what aspects their parents used to enjoy most about the city and how the city has retained that very character Horton mentioned throughout the years.
“It was the sense of family and friendly people that first attracted my parents to the community,” explained Birkhold. “I moved here when I was 15 and now I’m 52 and it’s maintained those qualities. I still see families outside with their children, younger people out walking and everyone still talks to one another. It really is a great place to live.”