Q. When and in what capacity did you join Mill Creek Park?
A. I worked here one summer when I went to college in 1974 between my junior and senior years. I was on a labor crew, and then when I graduated, I came back here and worked a summer as a foreman of a trail maintenance crew. And then, as the season was ending, I was able to be employed by the [Comprehensive Employment and Training Act] program, and I worked for two years then between the Par 3 Golf Course and Fellows Riverside Gardens. After I spent two years mowing grass and cleaning toilets, the recreation director resigned, and I was able to get the job. I was in the right place at the right time.
Q. How has the job of recreation director changed over the years?
A. This job has gone on to become more and more demanding, especially since 1989, when we converted to a metropolitan park district. My job has grown on a regular basis with additional responsibilities with regard to nature preserves, educational programs, special events and facility management.
Q. What organizations do you belong to?
A. I was on the board for three years at the American Heart Association. I am currently a member of the Youngstown Roadrunners, and I have been on the Peace Race Board of Commissioners for about 15 years.
Q. What are your hobbies?
A. My hobbies are reading, running and travel. I've written some poetry, and I've enjoyed that for personal reasons.
Q. What are the major changes you've seen in Mill Creek Park over the past 25 years?
A. The biggest change would be our expansion starting in 1989, with the countywide support versus the city of Youngstown support. That enabled a lot of growth. We've been able to add land. We have two nature preserves now.
We operate the Mahoning County Experimental Farm out in Canfield, Yellow Creek Park in Struthers, McGuffey Nature Preserve in Coitsville, the Vickers Nature Preserve in Ellsworth and Mill Creek Park proper.
Because of help through grant money, we've been able to establish things like the bike trail in Canfield and Austintown. We just raised a lot of private money for the new Visitor's Center up at Fellows Riverside Gardens.
One of the things we're most proud of is our increase in educational programs and recreational offerings. We service via classroom and on-site tours over 50,000 school children every year. And then, our special events bring in 20,000 people every year. And that doesn't include the concerts, golf course attendance or visitors to the gardens.
Q. How does your sense of humor help you to do your job here?
A. A sense of humor is needed in public work. A lot of times, we can err by trying to make everybody happy, and that is impossible. So, when we do disappoint somebody, we always try to make amends in that regard, and it takes a sense of humor to get over that. This job goes at a blinding pace from March through October.
Q. Why did you decide to bring comedy shows to Morley Pavilion?
A. As part of my job as recreation director, I have the responsibility of trying to think up new programs and trying to do something creative. We had great family shows but a limited audience. We had a limited budget.
We had to find comedians who were willing to work for $1,500 and $3,000 and still had some kind of a national name. I was very proud of the comedians we did bring in. We had an agreement in writing that they would deliver nothing but clean humor.
Q. What are your top priorities as recreation director?
A. To provide the cleanest, safest facilities and the best educational services and recreational programming that we can.
Q. You provide diverse recreational opportunities in the MetroParks, from organized athletics to bird watching. What's your strategy for keeping all the various interest groups satisfied?
A. Our strategy is to try to program to the family, and, with that, we have a really nice success rate because everybody seems to be included. We program strongly to the children, knowing that we're going to get a lot of parents and grandparents to come out with the young kids.
We do educational programs at Yellow Creek Park, the Ford Nature Education Center, Lanterman's Mill, the Mahoning County Experimental Farm and Fellows Riverside Gardens.
We have 6,000 people over a weekend attend our biggest program -- Christmas at the Mill. We have the Animal Baby Shower that brings out 3,000 people in one day because people get an opportunity to actually touch and feed the animals at the Mahoning County Experimental Farm. We have the kite festival and sunset at the farm. We're back having our reptile exhibit this year. We do an art show and a photo show every year.
We'll take a hike out if one person shows up. That's how important we consider our offerings, and that's the respect we show to the public. I have excellent staff at all levels that help me produce these programs.
Q. What are the chief rewards and chief frustrations of your job?
A. The chief reward is, after doing this job for so long, it has allowed me to feel self-fulfilled. I'm able to offer the community a respite from the day-to-day routine.
People who came here as kids are now bringing their kids to programs that I've started, and I think that we have created very good memories for a large part of the community.
Frustrations about the job: A lot of times, it would come down to be weather-related. Nothing really is worse, when you're working with a good team of staff out there, to plan a program or a special event and have it impacted by bad weather.
Q. You've been with Mill Creek Park for more than a quarter century. What led you to make a career here instead of moving up to a bigger park system?
A. When I was given the opportunity to do this job, and I tried it on, it just seemed to fit like a glove. I feel like I was born to do this job.
Q. You're an avid runner, and you were recently inducted into the Youngstown Roadrunners Hall of Fame. How many miles a day do you run and how many days a week?
A. I will run anywhere from four to six miles a day about four to five times a week. I usually run in Mill Creek Park. The finest runners in this area train and look forward to running in Mill Creek Park. It can't be beat. The sheer beauty of Mill Creek Park is a magnet to runners, cyclists, walkers and anybody who enjoys the outdoors.
Q. Why do you like running?
A. I took it up after I got out of college to help me train for boxing. Then I just fell in love with it.
Q. What other sports have you participated in, and what sports, besides running, are you participating in now?
A. I have participated in boxing and bowling. I played on the golf team at Chaney [High School]. I play tennis. I was dorm champ for ping pong in college.
Q. I understand you have coordinated the Peace Race through Mill Creek Park for many years. What's special about the annual Peace Race here each fall?
A. Not only did I coordinate it for the park , but I was the president of the Peace Race board for three years. For the really competitive runner, it's a very fast course, and they look for that. So we've had world class athletes like Bill Rogers, Frank Shorter and Lasse Viren. They've all come in here and competed in the Peace Race. Those were during the big glory days, when Phar-Mor was sponsoring the race, and now, it's much tougher because we can't offer the cash prizes.
For the recreational runner, once again, it boils down to the sheer beauty of the course.
Q. Why should the voters vote for the Mill Creek MetroParks levy in November?
A. Because of our track record. We're a wonderful source and resource for recreation and education. The community has supported us for 110 years. We were started in 1891, and we haven't disappointed too many along the way. It's such a community asset that needs to be protected, and it needs to be supported.
XTHE WRITER/ Peter H. Milliken, Vindicator staff writer, conducted the interview.