Those who enjoy the parks system in the city of Cottonwood Shores have one particular individual with an exceptional vision to thank: former Mayor Sylvia Breen.
Breen, who served as mayor from 2005 to 2009, died May 28, 2021, at her home. She was 77.
“She was really trying to make the city better,” Mayor Don Orr said. “She lost (re-election) by four votes in 2009. After that, she started working with the parks committee, the civic center, and the library. She wanted a change and wanted to see the city get better.”
The City Council recognized her as the 2018 Citizen of the Year for her effort on behalf of Cottonwood Shores.
Orr and Councilor Roger Wayson served on the council during Breen’s last two years as mayor. They had a front row seat in watching the city create several parks, often due to Breen’s advocacy.
They recalled the city had three parks before Breen got involved: Noah Thompson, the boat ramp, and a community park. The three parks featured some open areas and a table but little else. None of the parks had a playscape for kids.
In 2006, Breen led the charge to submit grant applications to the Lower Colorado River Authority and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The result was $2 million in grant funding that helped improve the three existing parks and create three more: the skate park, Aspen Park, and the nature preserve.
Breen’s contributions went beyond paperwork. She unified people behind projects.
“At Noah Thompson Park, no one could get to the water,” Wayson said. “We dug in steps and moved gravel pieces to make steps. (Breen) brought the community together that day.”
At the boat ramp, the city and residents added tables and asphalted the parking lot and ramp. They also added a second dock with a boat slip to the one already there and created a swimming area.
At the community park located near the library, the city converted the pool into a splashpad, added a playground and tables, and built restrooms.
“What she did was essentially bring in a very large emphasis on parks within the city,” Orr said. “We have a ton of parks for 1,800 to 2,000 people, and five or six are very well-equipped. It’s such a step up. Sylvia’s leadership is when it started.”
Wayson said Breen’s biggest challenge was getting volunteers to buy into a vision of how the three existing parks could look if they devoted the time. This was even before she nailed down grant funding.
“There was no money coming,” he said. “She had a good demeanor about her. She could get people to do things without demanding. She came across in a good way. She could get people to do things without harping on them.”
Both said Breen would want to be remembered as someone who improved her neighbors’ quality of life.
“Sylvia wants to be remembered as someone who wanted to make this city better,” Orr said. “Sylvia was a real leader in trying to build up Cottonwood Shores to what it is today.”