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As the Springfield-Greene County Parks director prepares to step away, he reflects on the past dozen years and shares what he envisions for the future

Springfield-Greene County Park Board Director Bob Belote
Springfield-Greene County Park Board
Springfield-Greene County Park Board Director Bob Belote

Bob Belote will retire in mid-January after 20 years with the parks department.

The director of the Springfield-Greene County Park Board is looking forward to spending more time with family when he retires early next year.

Bob Belote said he’s delayed traveling abroad – something he and his wife have always wanted to do – and when he retires, he plans to fulfill that dream. He also has two grown children in the Kansas City area, and he wants to spend more time with his father.

Belote started working for Springfield-Greene County Parks about 20 years ago, and he grew up in the park system. In college at then Southwest Missouri State University (now Missouri State), he met Jodi Adams who would go on to become parks director in Springfield. Belote said she steered him into a career in parks and recreation, and for that he’s grateful.

Belote completed a graduate internship at the Park Board while earning his master’s degree at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

In the late 1980s, he ran the Park Board’s youth baseball program and met his wife Deana.

“I was running kids’ baseball, and she was running kids’ girls’ softball, and the, you know, season running youth sports together will bond you in a way that you can’t really describe ‘til you’ve been through it,” he said.

He went away for awhile to run parks departments in Independence, Missouri and Sioux City, Iowa and was assistant parks director in Blue Springs, Missouri. But he said he and his wife moved back to their hometown to raise their children and to be close to family.

He said he’s never regretted coming back.

Belote said he’s proudest of the collaborations the Park Board has had with various partner groups and organizations and the Park Board’s work to bring sports tourism to Springfield. He pointed to the collaboration with the City of Springfield and the State of Missouri to use American Rescue Plan Act funds to renovate Cooper Sports Complex.

“We’ve got about $27 million or so going back into the park – softball, soccer, baseball,” he said, “and it’s really going to be pretty transformative to that park.”

He also named the Cooper Tennis Complex and what’s happened there over the years.

The Park Board just finished hosting three state tournaments over the last three weekends. Two were in tennis, and one was in softball.

“And that’s really a legacy – are all the tournaments, championships we host here,” he said. “That’s from the start way back in the 50s and 60s with fast-pitch softball, and over time we’ve really grown that. I’m really proud of the role we’ve played in that.”

And he said the Park Board played a key role in helping people get through the COVID-19 Pandemic when people were forced to social distance. Belote said they offered area residents a safe place to be.

“They could get out in the parks, and they could go out on the trails, and they could go play a round of golf, and, you know, socially distance, and they could do those things,” he said. “I think that was just incredibly therapeutic for a lot of folks.”

Park Board Chair Randy Blackwood, in a news release, noted Belote’s focus on cultivating parks partnerships, his leadership during the COVID pandemic, his support and encouragement for parks staff and associates and his advocacy for reinvesting in sports infrastructure. Blackwood said Belote’s immediate legacy will be the redevelopment of Cooper Park, including 19 sports turf fields at Killian Softball Complex, Cooper Youth Baseball Complex and the Cooper Soccer Complex, slated for completion in 2025.

As Belote prepares to step away, he answered a question about what he envisions for the future of parks and recreation in Springfield. Belote said the parks system is 110-years-old, so trying to find a permanent capital funding source will be a priority “something I wish I would’ve got done during my time there,” he said, “and it’s just not quite there yet.”

He said the funds aren’t necessarily needed to build new things, but to reinvest in existing parks “whether, you know, that’s our 30-year-old sports parks and things like that or just our neighborhood and historic parks or the zoo,” he said. “You know, the zoo’s very old. It needs a lot of TLC, too.”

He said the Forward SGF planning process showed that parks and trails are very important to area residents, and they’d like for them to be a focus as the city grows in the future.

He’s excited about the plans for the Lake Springfield area.

While he’s looking forward to retirement in mid January, Belote said it’s bittersweet and emotional to leave the Springfield-Greene County Park Board.

“I’m going to miss a lot of folks. I’m going to miss a lot of projects,” he said. “There’s still a lot of really cool projects we’re in the middle of right now, but there’s an incredibly good Park Board team there that will help see a lot of that through.”

An interim parks director is expected to be named in the coming weeks. Blackwood said the Park Board will take an active role in the search and selection process for the next parks director, along with the City of Springfield.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.