History, and free watermelon, mark the re-dedication of Missoula's Caras Park

Caras Park dedication
Caras Park plaque
Posted at 3:32 PM, Aug 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-24 20:22:11-04

MISSOULA - "Sunny Jim" — one of the legendary figures in Missoula history —received his thanks on Wednesday at the re-dedication of Caras Park.

While some people associate watermelon with summertime and good times, there is a deeper, local, meaning at Caras Park in downtown Missoula.

There was live music. laughter and lunch along the banks of the Clark Fork River during the next-to-last Out to Lunch. But there was also something different — the unveiling a permanent reminder of James K. Caras, and his love of the Garden City.

"This plaque that we have here will be first temporarily located over near the steps coming off Beartracks Bridge. And then when the next phase of Caras Park improvement takes place, it will be moved to a more permanent location at the end of Ryman Street," explained volunteer Geoff Badenoch.

Caras Park plaque

It's a story the tens of thousands of people enjoying the park every week should know; a point emphasized by the guest appearance of the generations of "Sunny Jim" and his brother Sam's descendants. The families are part of Missoula's success for more than a century — all because Jim decided to leave Greece at the age of 18.

"He ended up in Chicago for a couple years, and then that wasn't working out so well, so he hired a labor agent and they sent him to Missoula, Montana. And shortly after that, he knew that this was the place for him and sent for his brother Sam," businessman Bill Caras recounted. "And the rest is kind of history. There are a lot of us still here, so they found a pretty good place."

And where does the watermelon fit in? "One part of James Caras' legacy was his practice of bringing wagons of watermelon down and serving ice cold watermelon to the public for free just in celebration of summer," Badenoch told MTN News.

Caras Park dedication
Bill Caras and members of the Caras Family were special guests at the re-dedication of Caras Park on Aug. 24, 2022.

What started as a fruit business blossomed into other family ventures. It's a success shared with the community every day at Caras Park.

"They had their trials and tribulations, but they hung with it and they became model citizens, I believe. And that's why Mayor Toole thought of my grandfather when it was time to name Island Park once it started getting fixed up," Caras said. "I will say when I was a kid this was a junkyard. It was full of junk vehicles. So he would be very happy and I'm sure my great Uncle Sam would be very happy to see what it looks like today."