(WACO, Texas) – Representatives of Texas State Technical College and the Baylor University School of Engineering and Computer Science joined Axtell residents on Thursday, July 21, for the dedication of a wheelchair-accessible swing at Axtell Community Park.
“It’s one of those things where you see us (TSTC and Baylor) as these big brands,” said Jerome Mendias, an associate provost at TSTC. “We are neighbors. That is who we have always been. We are just good neighbors. I think that is how the project has come to the fruition as it has.”
McLennan County Precinct 2 Commissioner Patricia Miller described the swing as a notable project that helps to normalize activities for all children.
Having the honor of taking the first ride on the swing was Axtell resident Tristan Lee. Still in his wheelchair, he was positioned into the swing and pushed. As he was gliding, the grin did not leave his face.
“Why did we stop?” he asked.
Dede Lee, Tristan’s mother, said the swing exceeded what she had envisioned at the early stages of the project.
“I’m blown away and amazed,” she said. “I’m smiling so much because he’s having so much fun.”
Dede Lee, who works with junior high and high school special needs students in the Axtell Independent School District, predicted that the swing will get lots of use.
“I have a feeling we may bring some students here on a field trip,” she said.
The home for the swing came about with determination.
Amanda Ruble, of Axtell, is a 2017 graduate of TSTC’s Business Management Technology program. After seeing on social media local residents’ interest in a place to buy and sell vegetables, Ruble started in 2020 her own social media effort for the Axtell Farmers Market and Trade Days and asked Leroy-Axtell Fire and Rescue’s fire chief to allow the market to set up on land next door to their building. The event was also a way to help raise money for a new Jaws of Life for the fire and rescue squad.
As the farmers market grew, it spurred on a bigger idea: a community park with playground equipment that all of Axtell’s children can use. The park took shape on the land that the farmers market had used.
“It’s amazing, obviously. Just look at it,” Ruble said about the swing. “It’s good the whole community came together to make this happen.”
Jeff and Cindy Lehrmann, graduates of Axtell High School, volunteered to purchase and have a wheelchair-accessible swing installed at the park. Jeff Lehrmann graduated in 1986 from Texas A&M University’s petroleum engineering program. He recently retired as managing director of Chevron’s Asia South Business Unit.
“The past year has been a wonderful blessing from so many,” Jeff Lehrmann said. “While Cindy and I intended to fund the project, no one would let us. Everyone from Baylor, TSTC and countless other organizations and individuals came to the project and volunteered their support.”
All four of the Lehrmanns’ children are Baylor University graduates. Jeff Lehrmann has ties to TSTC, with his father having taken welding classes and some of his relatives knowing Curtis Cleveland, chair of the TSTC Board of Regents and vice president at Central Texas Iron Works in Waco.
Baylor University’s Engineering Design II class designed the swing during the fall 2021 semester, said James Bates, a Baylor mechanical engineering lecturer. One group of students designed the guardrails, foundation and supporting structure, and the other group of students focused on the swinging platform.
“The amount of detail required to transfer the construction of the design to a third party provided the students a great opportunity to learn about how this transfer of responsibility happens in the real world,” Bates said.
Early this year, TSTC’s Auto Collision and Management Technology, Industrial Systems and Precision Machining Technology programs took over the construction aspect of the project.
“There were some things we saw that we needed to beef up and make more structurally sound,” said Griffin Smyth, co-lead instructor in TSTC’s Welding Technology program.
Jeremy Bailey, lead instructor in TSTC’s Precision Machining Technology program, said students got experience cutting holes in the swing’s diamond-plate platform. The program also contributed bevel hinges and other parts.
Geneva Hernandez, of Waco, is an Auto Collision and Management Technology student who assisted in painting the swing. She and her classmates worked with instructors both in and out of class for about a month on the project.
“We all wanted to take a turn on it,” Hernandez said. “It is cool.”
For more information on TSTC, go to tstc.edu.