Randy Stewart profiles Jodie Adams, Director of Parks for the Springfield-Greene County Parks Department.
RANDY STEWART: You heard this morning that this Springfield native, a graduate of Parkview High School and Missouri State University, was also a gifted tennis player. She gave up what might have been a world-class career as a tennis doubles player--she received a wild-card invitation to play at Wimbledon in the late 1970s!--to stay here in Springfield and work to make this area a better place through its parks and recreation areas.
--So what was your first full-time job in this field?
JODIE ADAMS: I was in charge of the brand-new tennis complex at Gillenwaters Tennis Complex in 1980; I was in charge of Junior Miss softball, which had around 800-and-some girls in it; I was in charge of volleyball. And those were the primary responsibilities.
RANDY: So where did you go from there, as you basically just rose up within the organization?
JODIE: Well, I actually did. I was very fortunate. Over my career, and now being Director of Parks, I've received six promotions over the 30 years. I think the best part is that I have come from entry-level, from the very sort of part-time person that we hire every day--we have 800 part-time seasonal people that we hire during the year, along with our 180 to 200 full-time. The bottom line is, I was able to go into a Lead Supervisor position after that, then a Coordinator position, then an Administrator position--that's in recreation; then, I was Superintendent of Recreation. From there I went to Assistant Director of Parks, and now to Director. I was appointed Director in January of 2006. Dan Kinney retired, and Dan Kinney and I were together, again, 30 years. And I feel very fortunate, because I had a great mentor for three decades. And we've only had three Directors in our history there at the Park Board. We had a Superintendent prior to a Directorship, that took care of the park area. The three Directors have been Jim Ewing, Dan Kinney, and now myself. So we're 93 years old, and that's not very many directors in that time.
RANDY: Very true.
JODIE: And I think what's dynamic about it is, people extremely value their parks and recreation today. You know, at one point the Parks and Recreation--it was a very important part of Springfield as we grew in the early years, but it really has become a very coveted quality-of-life issue for our public. And it also is an economic driver for our community, because if you have good open space and parks and quality of life in your city, people want to live there, businesses want to move there. And I'll tell you what I've seen over the changes: of course we now are in the third-rank priority of the city and the county system because of those two things--quality of life and economic development. We were not as high in the early years. We also went from, when I first came to the Park Board, around 30 or 40 parks; we're now over 89 parks and linear trails and facilities. One major area that has changed is the trail system. We didn't have trails. Just about 15 years ago we started into the trail business, working with Ozark Greenways. And then of course in 2001 with the city-county parks sales tax that was passed that supports the Vision 20-20 plan--that is when we really took off in trails. And so today we have over 75 miles of trails.
RANDY: So you have trails, and people have to realize that that's part of it--it's not just Fassnight and Westport and so on. What all is encompassed in what the Parks Department does these days?
JODIE: We've always had the mainstay of sports. Softball will always be a part of our core sports that we offer. What's really exciting is, now we've gotten into arts. We have several sculptures throughout our public system now. We have the Jordan Valley Parks that have come into the system. All of the planning has really been dynamic with Vision 20-20. It's shown us the way for our Master Plan to develop these types of parks. We have the ice rink now, the Jordan Valley ice facility. We also have Nathaniel Green-Close Memorial Park. I mean, that park was actually acquired in the 1970s, but it really took off in development with the Japanese Stroll Garden 20 years ago. We're in our 20th anniversary with our Sister City, Isesaki, Japan. And what's exciting is, that park now will actually get a botanical building, which we've needed for years. That will happen because of the 2006 passage of the sales tax. You've got Dickerson Park Zoo, that's been in our midst for years, several decades. And the Zoo almost closed early on, by a 5-to-4 vote of the Park Board several decades ago. And what has happened is, we had Friends of the Zoo develop, and that was community volunteers and community-interested citizens that wanted to keep the Zoo open and really make it a better place to come. And that's what's happened over the years. Friends of the Zoo worked with the Park Board, so we were able to complete $5.5 million worth of improvements at the Zoo. And we were written up just lately in the Kansas City "Star" for being nationally known as a conservation area for elephants. But again, if you don't have public support and people who believe in what you're doing--and the main thing is, if you don't have a good plan--you're not going to get that type of support to go ahead and build this type of park system. And we are a metropolitan park system today.
RANDY: You talked about Friends of the Zoo--is there any kind of a guild like that, just in general, that helps raise money for the Park Board?
JODIE: We actually are developing that. I appreciate that question, because we're in the process right now of actually creating a foundation called "Friends of the Parks." And we have several people over the years, like the Harry Cooper family, that have donated land and cash donations to the Park Board to actually build a park facility. You have the Major Close family, and the list goes on and on. We've had so many people involved with us over the years. And we really want to organize it all under one umbrella, so we will be organizing that--right now we have them in separate trust funds, and those are organized through the main Park office. But what's exciting is that we have so many people coming forward that, in all good faith, are really wanting to preserve their property, or name something for a family member. And so we have quite a few people call us about possibly donating to the park system, either land, cash, or some time of contribution to our department.
RANDY: You've been able to parlay your success locally into a national position as a Trustee with the National Recreation and Park Association.
JODIE: Yes, I've been very fortunate over the years. Dan Kinney took me under his wing as I've mentioned before, and Dan always encouraged me to broaden my horizons in terms of what the United States was doing within its municipal park systems throughout the country. So I got involved with the Missouri parks and Recreation Association--I'm a past President of the state parks and recreation board. And then I moved on through the regional system and into national, to run for a national election to be on the NRPA board of Trustees. What really surprises me sometimes is, you've got to believe. And Dan (Kinney) had always told me, "Go ahead and run, give it a shot." And I think I was really shocked when I won the election nationally, because you are running against very well-known parks directors across the country. But definitely the Springfield-Greene County Park Board is a force in the country now. We're in the top ten departments; we were a national Gold Medal Award winner in the millennium (2000). What it has done for us, which is important, and the only reason I was going to run for office, was to continue to have Springfield be on the map, make sure that people understood that we were moving into city-county parks and recreation now. We're known as a city-county department throughout the country. And I think the other thing is, we were able to bring several national programs back to Springfield through that affiliation. I'd been the chair of all national programs for NRPA. And again, this has all been changing over time--we now have built school parks over the years, we work with R-12. And this is all part of the new Vision 20-20 plan that the public passed in 2001.
RANDY: In addition to everything else, you are also past President of the Springfield Regional Arts Council.
JODIE: That was a great experience, because I'd always been involved in and interested in the theatre. I actually used to dance on the Landers stage--I was a young dancer coming up through the ranks before I was a tennis player! And then I was exposed to tennis by a friend and my brother, and that's all she wrote--I switched from dancing on the Landers Theatre stage. Some people will remember Mrs. Walker, who had Walker's School of Dance that I was being trained at, on St. Louis Street. And so there's a little history behind my movement on the tennis court! I was actually in arts and cultural background when I was young. But what it really came down to is, I really felt that if the Springfield-Greene County Park Board and the community would continue to grow over time, we needed to continue to expand our arts and cultural offerings throughout our community.
RANDY: And Vision 20-20 really is a focal point for all of that.
JODIE: Well, and it was so important to develop the Cultural Plan that has now been part of the Vision 20-20 plan at the same time as all of our elements of Vision 20-20, including the park system. It actually talks about being involved with the park system in the Cultural Plan. And so, what's great about that is that we were able to pass the Cultural Plan when I was going into President (of the Arts Council), and actually got it passed by City Council. And what it has given us is a full roadmap now to the development of arts and culture throughout our region, not just in Springfield. There's a lot of public art that we're putting back into our park system. It's tying all of it together--tie all the dots together, connect them--that's what I really my job is as Director of Parks. It's to look at the community, see where parks can play an important role in everybody's everyday life, and then tie the connectors. And you know, with the development of the Community Olympic Development Centers with the United States Olympic Committee, that has really professionalized our pathway of skill development for young children and kids to go and find their drams, in the current sports we have of weightlifting, tennis, ice hockey, and volleyball. And that is with the best in the United States, because we get the best training for our coaches now--they train them.
RANDY: So after all that, what are your goals for the future?
JODIE: Well, the goals for the future are really to continue the development of the park system. I'm very focused on what we're doing with the city and county with the expansion of our metropolitan large parks. These include the taking over and now managing Lake Springfield. We have the new Lost Hill property north of town that's a natural reserve. We also have the Valley Water Mill property that we're working with City Utilities and the Wathershed Committee on. And the Valley Water Mill Equestrian Center--people have asked for an equestrian center for years. We used to have horses in the '70s out at Ritter Springs, but now we have a really top-notch facility going in for the horse lover, or someone that wants to learn about horses.
RANDY: If people want information on the Springfield-Greene County Parks Department, they can call what number?
JODIE: They call (417) 864-1049, or they can go to our website www.parkboard.org.
RANDY: It's interesting that you managed to get that domain name!
JODIE: We were WAY early! (laughs) I think we were earlier than the Internet actually happened! We were right on top of that.
RANDY: You got there first.
RANDY: Thanks for being here, I appreciate it very much.
JODIE: I'm just so fortunate to live in a great community. We will just keep working 120 percent to make sure we do what we need to do for our citizens.