City honors parks advocate with tree planting

HARLINGEN — To mark this Arbor Day, and to commemorate the memory of a longtime Parks and Recreation Department board member, city officials planted a bottle brush tree in Liberty Gardens yesterday.

The late Kenneth Pruneau, who died Feb. 16 at the age of 87, would have loved it.

“He would have been very honored and humbled because he didn’t brag about anything but he wanted to contribute something to the community,” said his daughter, Katherine Warner, who arrived for the ceremony from Florida.

“He really did love it down here,” she added. “He loved Harlingen, the people, and he loved the parks board … ‘they had the best lunches,’ he said that.”

Pruneau retired from Boeing Corp. in St. Louis and decided, as so many do, to spend his days in Harlingen.

He took an active role on the parks and rec board, and as all who knew him will attest, he wasn’t shy about sharing his opinion about the proper course of municipal action.

“I remember it was last election, or the election before that, and I was block-walking and knocking on doors and asking people to vote for me,” said Mayor Chris Boswell. “Sometimes you don’t realize whose door you’re knocking on and you just knock on a door and there was Kenneth, and he’d been a faithful member of our parks and recreation board and we knew each other well.

“He sure let me know what we needed to do in this community,” Boswell said to laughter. “He wasn’t just not going to take the opportunity. If I was there to ask for his vote, he was going to tell me what he was going to ask for in return.

“We had a great exchange, and it’s a wonderful memory I have of that wonderful man,” the mayor added.

Pruneau’s interest in the city’s parks was kindled by his longtime use of the Pendleton Park pool, where he was a regular swimmer.

“I’ve known Kenneth for longer than his term as an advisory board member, because Mr. Pruneau really enjoyed utilizing Pendleton Pool,” said Parks Superintendent Jeff Lyssy. “And he would come in and complain about the water temperature — which everybody does all the time.

“But he was a great guy,” Lyssy added, “I’ve known him for many years, and I’ll miss him.”

The president of Keep Harlingen Beautiful, Sgt. Maj. Ford Kinsley, served as master of ceremonies at yesterday’s event, and the invocation was delivered by Chaplain Joe Perez, vice president for pastoral service at Valley Baptist Medical Center.

The presentation of colors was delivered by the Harlingen High School ROTC.

Members of the student government at nearby Austin Elementary helped plant the commemorative bottle brush tree, which was one of three dedicated at Liberty Gardens near the public library in connection with Arbor Day.