After receiving a state association’s top honor, Fridley parks director Jack Kirk reflects on his 37 years with the city.
Just out of college in 1976, Jack Kirk figured he’d spend a couple of years working for the Fridley parks and recreation department, then move on to another job elsewhere. That seemed to be how people advanced in their careers.
Kirk’s story turned out differently. He fell in love with the community, and this month, he marked 37 years with parks and rec, the past 28 as director.
In January, the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association recognized Kirk with its Clifton E. French Distinguished Service Award, its highest honor. The award goes to a member who “has provided long and outstanding service to the parks and recreation field” and to the organization, according to its website.
Last week, we caught up with Kirk for a talk about his career and experiences overseeing Fridley’s 38 parks.
Q: What do you enjoy about this line of work?
A: It’s an opportunity to touch so many lives in many different ways. People can find enjoyment through the facilities that we offer, like the parks, trails, pavilions and ice arenas. But there’s also reward in people using the programs — whether it’s young children in an after-school program or adults in a fitness class or a senior who gets a tremendous amount of joy getting together with three people and playing cards.
I also enjoy interacting with people, which I do on a constant basis. We had a Mardi Gras party recently, with 170 seniors. I dealt cards for blackjack, all with “play money.” They had a blast and I did too. They told me about themselves and where they live and what their kids are doing.
Q: Looking back, what do you think your greatest achievement has been?
A: We worked closely with the school district to get the Fridley Community Center developed at a former school. That was back in 1996 and 1997. We needed additional space for senior and teen activities and community organizations that didn’t have a place to meet. The city put $1.5 million into an addition to the building. Fifteen years later, it’s still heavily used, and I envision that it’ll continue to be used in the future.
Q: What has been your biggest challenge?
A: The biggest challenge has probably been replacing aging park infrastructure and equipment and trying to provide new amenities with a limited budget. It’s made us look carefully at what our needs are and try to allocate those dollars to have as much positive impact in the community as we can. It’s not easy to say, ‘I’m going to put equipment ‘here’ but not ‘here.’ Not everyone may agree with the decisions that get made, but we’ve tried to be fair and do what’s best for the community.
Q: Who are your mentors? Any words of wisdom that have stuck with you in running the parks?
A: Chuck Boudreau was the director when I got here. I learned from him how important it was to develop great relationships with community organizations like the Lions, Jaycees, youth sports associations and others. Once you had those relationships, you could work together on various projects, so more could be accomplished. He really stressed that and I took it to heart.
Our former city manager, Bill Burns, was another mentor. He really sent a clear message to his staff that the city and his department ran in a professional manner. He was very good at communications. He instilled in me how important it was to provide information to the community and the staff, to make sure everyone knew what was going on.