Dayton neighbor has been a beacon of laughter, fun and water balloons during pandemic

Phillip Neumann is no stranger in his neighborhood of South Park near downtown Dayton.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, while people have been feeling isolated and lonely, the Connecticut-native managed to bring his neighbors closer together than ever before through water balloons, popcorn and Nerf wars.

Some would say that Neumann’s creative lightbulb for fun neighborhood events never turns off. Neumann started organizing South Park activities in 2018, but realized the particular importance of giving his neighbors something to look forward to during the pandemic.

After completing his enlistment in the Marine Corps, Neumann lived near Virginia Beach until 2014. He decided to pack his bags and join his sister and her family in Dayton.

“I moved into South Park in 2016 on the recommendation of my friend Dan Campbell who also lives in neighborhood,” Neuman said. “Prior to moving in, I’d never considered this neighborhood noteworthy since my only knowledge of it was passing glimpses as I journeyed up and down Wayne Avenue. I was pleasantly surprised when I started house hunting to discover how nice it was and was extremely fortunate to land the house I’m renting.”

Neumann’s new neighborhood would in turn benefit from his good fortune, as he’s been the catalyst for neighborhood-wide water balloon fights, movie nights in the park, giant waterslides and countless freeze-pop giveaways.

One of his most impressive and generous feats this summer was getting a microwave to work in the middle of the Park Drive pavilion to pop a dozen individual bags of popcorn for “A Bug’s Life” movie night outdoors.

Neumann is our Daytonian of the Week.

🏘️When and why did you decide to become an involved resident in the South Park neighborhood?

"I had been living in South Park for about two years before I decided to get involved. Originally, my involvement was relegated to helping my neighbors on my block but in the Spring of 2018, I felt led to put up a sign-board outside my porch and started posting inspirational quotes. As the weather warmed up, I decided to start handing out freeze pops for free on Fridays in front of my place. It became a regular end-of-the-week thing and it was a great way to meet people and share a cool treat to beat the heat. I eventually upgraded to ice cream sandwiches as well — got to keep it fresh!

Some time into that I also decided to try to host a Nerf War at our local park around the corner from me. Since moving to Dayton, I’ve amassed a small arsenal of Nerf guns but they weren’t getting much use so I thought it might be fun to invite the neighborhood kids to join me at the park. Eventually, I started doing them on a semi-regular basis, along with freeze pops. This summer, with the lock-down keeping kids (and grown-ups) cooped up, I decided it was more important than ever to continue hosting events and encourage people to get outside and have fun again. I also decided to branch out from the Nerf wars and started hosting water wars using the cheap water sticks you can buy at Dollar Tree and some free buckets and barrels – we also had some water balloon fights as well. We had a few of those before I had the wild idea to try and make a water slide. After doing some brainstorming I settled on a design and tested it out one Sunday. It was a stunning success so we began hosting waterparks on the weekends as well.

Then my neighbor Angela Bailey asked if anyone could think of a way to host an outdoor movie night. I thought it was a great idea so I did some brainstorming and came up with a plan for how to make her idea a reality. We collaborated with some friends and managed to get all the equipment and supplies needed then put together a home-made screen with a borrowed PA system and a cheap projector. Surprisingly it worked and we were able to host a fun-filled night at the movies. We managed to squeeze in four showings for this season and it was a blast.

I became involved with my neighborhood because I discovered that I get a lot of enjoyment out of serving others. Engaging with my community by hosting events is a great way to meet people and serve them; it’s fun and I think it helps to encourage other people to do the same. I think most people are in need of an opportunity to experience and build community while having fun as well. I decided that I’m one of those people crazy enough to give it a try and see what happens. So far I can’t complain."

🏘️What are a couple of your favorite memories you’ve made while organizing South Park activities for your neighbors?

"I think my favorite memory so far, out of all the events we’ve had, was the initial opening of the South Park Water Slide Park. We had a great turnout and it was a really pleasant day. The kids had a great time and it just so fun to see them outside and enjoying the slides. Two 100′ water slides, wading pools, water sticks for water fights and free freeze pops! What’s not to love?

Second favorite would probably be our opening night at the movies. It was all trial and error so we weren’t 100% sure it would work, but it did, and it worked brilliantly, and seeing the 45 or 50 people who came out just hanging out, enjoying the evening was such a fun departure from being cooped up inside with more doom and gloom on the TV."

🏘️ Do you think being a good neighbor has become more important during the COVID-19 pandemic? Why or why not?

“I think being a good neighbor has always been important. I just think that the pandemic has helped remind and reinforce that for many people. We’re wired for relationships and at the end of the day, I think everyone wants to be a part of some type of a community. Unfortunately, we’ve become more and more distanced from each other but I think COVID has been eye-opening for a lot of people. Life is hard enough as it is. Having people, having neighbors and a community to do life with can make things a little more bearable and certainly more interesting and enjoyable than being a Lone Ranger. Everyone has things they need help with in life, so being a good neighbor is not only in your best interest but your neighbor’s as well – plus life is more fun with friends.”

🏘️ What do you like about living in South Park and in Dayton?

“I love that South Park, like Patterson Park my previous neighborhood, is such a “walk-able” neighborhood. No matter what time of day you head out you are bound to run into a neighbor or five and it’s fun to say “hello” and chitchat or take in all the different gardens and cool house designs and architecture. South Park is central to so much of Dayton and the outlying areas but it still feels like this little hidden gem tucked away right next to downtown. I really love how generous and willing to help my neighbors are. It must be at least five times a week people will post on our neighborhood page asking for help or needing something and usually within an hour, sometimes even minutes, someone has responded to fill that need or offer their assistance. We really saw an uptick in that this year and I love it.”

🏘️ Any ideas you have for keeping the neighborhood active and connected through the colder months?

“Definitely hoping for some serious snow this year because we need to have many, many snowball fights at the park. Also plans for snow fort building, the world’s biggest snowball, a snowman competition with judges and different categories, along with prizes. If the snow gets deep enough we’ll have snow tunnels as well. In addition to neighborhood sledding days, I don’t have eight sleds in my basement for nothing. I’d like to have a hot cocoa and s’mores event as well and I’ve even wondered about a movie night in the snow — only the most hardcore South Parkers will come out, naturally.”

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