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Derek Forbes First Madison African-Amerian Lifeguard Is Honored

October 13, 2019

This past week I noticed activity taking place at B.B. Clarke Beach.  A truck with rich dark dirt passed our way with what looked like a park bench perched in the back.  Within an hour the city crew had completed their work and the result is an honor for a man worthy of recognition.


Derek Forbes was known for his masonry work throughout the area, but as his family wished to remind all with the placement of the bench, he was also the first African-American lifeguard in Madison.


In 2017 Derek died at the age of 60.

Derek was born in Toronto, Canada, and moved with his family to Madison, Wis., in 1961. He graduated from West High School in 1975, and studied geophysics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Derek’s love of nature and entrepreneurial spirit began early in his childhood sweeping sidewalks for businesses, managing several paper routes and starting a tree trimming service after an unexpected ice storm. He developed a seafood importing business while living and exploring Alaska; but the greatest gift that he accomplished was taking after his grandfather to become a mason. Derek practiced his trade for over 20 years and was one of the hardest working craftsman we will ever know.


Derek loved kayaking, reading, watching the history channel, adding to his DVD movie collection, and practicing his love of Taekwondo at Paik’s Academy. Derek had the ability to make anyone laugh until they couldn’t breathe.

The bench is placed for the perfect view of Lake Monona, along with a prime location to feel all its moods as winds either gently breeze past, or robustly alert you to the tempest a-coming.


This beach is a treasure with it being the most shallow in our city.  Each summer the larger area is surrounded by a boom that keeps out the algae and impediments to swimming.  With rip-rap added several years ago on the shoreline, and a canoe rack for storage it is easy to see why this beach continues to increase in the number of users.

As a history buff, and for those who also enjoy learning more about Madison history, I found the following in the archives of the Wisconsin State Journal.  From 1944 comes this news story concerning benches at B.B. Clarke Park.


Those benches were removed in 2009 for the new artistic benches made by Erika Koivunen for the Madison Parks Department.  Gary Tipler helped promote the sculptor/artist.  My husband, James, and I saw the underwriting for the five benches that were commissioned.  Henry Dudek has a bench in his honor as does a memorial for Myron Hub, long a regular who cleaned the park each Monday morning.  Other benches are still available for sponsorship of a loved one through the city.

It was decades ago that Derek would have looked out on the lake and felt the summer winds as he did his work as a lifeguard.  The family surely knew what this beach meant to him along with the mood of the water which greeted him each workday.  The bench, therefore, along with its placement seems the most fitting way to honor his life.

I wish to thank the Forbes family for such a generous donation to Madison Parks.



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