Close to 150 people braved the rain Saturday afternoon and came to the Hagginwood Community Center for the dedication of the Grantland Johnson Soccer Field.
“It’s quite an honor, I must tell you,” said Grantland Johnson to the crowd crammed inside the lobby of the community center.
A native resident of Sacramento’s Del Paso Heights neighborhood, Johnson graduated from Grant High School where he played for the Pacers football team. He received his B.A. Degree from Sacramento State in Government and later received honorary Doctorates of Humane Letters from both Sacramento State and Golden Gate University.
“I would not be the person I am today, had I not grown up in this great community of Del Paso Heights. I am so blessed and fortunate to have grown up in Del Paso Heights,” said Johnson.
Hagginwood Park was brought into the City of Sacramento when it merged with North Sacramento in 1964. It is where Johnson played baseball as a youth.
“A lot of folks I met, literally for the first time, out on the baseball field,” said Johnson.
Johnson went on to serve in offices at the city, county, state, and federal levels. He served as a member of the Sacramento City Council representing District 2 from 1983 to 1986. He then served as a member of the Sacramento Count Board of Supervisors representing District 1 from 1987 to 1993, when he was appointed by the Clinton administration as Director for the U.S Department of Health & Human Services overseeing Region IX from 1993 to 1998.
Johnson served as the Cabinet Secretary for the California Health & Human Services Agency during the Administration of former Governor Gray Davis from 1999 to 2003.
“It was a pleasure to work with Grantland,” said former Sacramento Mayor Anne Rudin. “I was so impressed with his understanding of policy issues, his ability to work with other people, his willingness to give and take a little.”
“His priorities were always right.”
When it was his turn to speak, Johnson returned the favor.
“She really reached out to me and worked with me to be an effective member of the council,” said Johnson. “Mayor Rudin is a person of supreme principle.”
“I learned from her the importance of building relationships to get things done. I want to say, Mayor Rudin, how much you mean to me, how much I respect you and honor you, but I think you’re much too modest in terms of the impact you’ve had on this community.”
“I can tell you personally the impact you’ve had over me, and I’m deeply grateful and I cherish your friendship.”
Johnson’s time serving the public allowed him to cross paths and influence several of today’s high-profile public officials.
“We take for granted that Sacramento has this great neighborhood-movement”, said State Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, who began serving as a Sacramento City Councilmember while Grantland served on the Board of Supervisors.
“We take for granted that the City and the school districts work together in the joint uses is the way we work together. We think the fact that we now connect economic development and job creation and the neighborhood movement. Back in 1992, none of that was really a reality, and wasn’t even the way of thinking, and the person who was really on the forefront of all of that was Grantland Johnson.”
“This recognition is not only very appropriate, but it’s necessary to recognize how far we’ve come as a community in 20 years and who was on the front-end and front-line when that happened.”
Assemblymember Roger Dickinson, who was Johnson’s successor as County Supervisor, reminisced about their work to bring light rail to Sacramento.
“I was privileged to join Grantland for a period of time on the Regional Transit Board in those early days of the 1980s when we were working to bring light rail transit, what was a new idea to Sacramento, which was really an old concept brought back to life,” said Dickinson.
“How far ahead of so many of us Grantland was with regard to making sure that we on the leading edge in transportation for those who most needed it and relied on it in our community.”
The soccer field is just one part of a planned makeover of Hagginwood Park to include a new play areas, an arbor structure, a skate park, a dog park, new basketball courts, and an outdoor theatre.
“Hagginwood was one of the focuses of a study that was done about two years ago about public safety in our parks and making parks like Hagginwood centers of our neighborhoods,” said City Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jonathan Rewers.
“The soccer field is another part to make this park a jewel within the city’s park system.”
Said Councilmember Sandy Sheedy: “It’s a professional soccer field, the first in this area. It’s already rented through the first of the year. It’s always going to be busy, and it’s always going to know the name ‘Grantland Johnson’ on it.”