In 1920, shortly after the end of World War I, Needham's Town Meeting voted unanimously to appropriate $17,500 to purchase ten acres of land from Nellie Richwagen, to be used as a Memorial Park, commemorating Needham's men and women who served their country in the Great War.
A year later, on April 19, 1921, Jim Crossman, a decorated war hero, spearheaded Community Day. Over 2000 volunteers, armed with shovels, picks, rakes, and wheelbarrows, marched to the site from two opposing directions – the center of town and the area known as the heights – to begin the actual labor of cutting into the hill that sloped to Highland Avenue.
With the combined effort of one steam shovel and much manual labor, the earth was moved and a broad flat plain was created about two feet above the street level. The freshly dug field was locked in place along Highland Avenue by a two-foot stonewall.
Other volunteers provided food for the workers - tables were laden with homemade pies, hundreds of pounds of hot dogs, baked beans, and much more.
At the front of the park facing Highland Avenue stands a boulder whole plaque reads: "To Those of Needham who served their country in the World War, 1917-1918, and in memory of those who died in service." The boulder and plaque were presented to the town by Needham Post 14 of the American Legion in 1935.
April 19 began the project, but it was several years before Memorial Park's outstanding baseball diamond, cinder track and football field were completed. The football field is the site of the country's oldest High School Thanksgiving Day rivalry. In 1982, thousands of spectators came to mark the 100th anniversary of the Needham and Wellesley Thanksgiving Day Football Game.
The need to replace the tar and gravel roof of the Memorial Park building occasioned Community Weekend on October 4 and 5, 1985. Under the leadership of Ron Sockol, hundreds of volunteers replaced the flat roof with a gable roof, incorporating two dormers and creating a second story to the building, which provides much needed meeting and storage space. Carpenters, plumbers, electricians, painters gave of themselves and their talents. Again, the tables were laden with food provided by volunteers.
After several years of planning and an amazing fund-raising effort, the Fields of Dreams became a reality at Memorial Park and DeFazio Park. A personal donation from Bud Roche and his family, joined with a donation in honor of Bob Day and Needham Bank funded the renovations to Memorial Park that included a multi-purpose synthetic field that includes a corner 60' diamond, as well as a 90' baseball diamond with dugouts.
The fields have athletic field lights, and many families enjoy watching Needham High athletic teams at their night games. Eagle Scout Michael Escalante made improvements to the Gazebo. At the conclusion of this major renovation, the Trustees of Memorial Park hosted The Wall that Heals - an incredible community event honoring those who served and lost their lives in the Vietnam War.