Ask Jon Oyanagi why he wanted to be Ramsey County’s new parks and recreation director, and he’ll say: “Number one was that coming home feeling.”
Oyanagi, who grew up in Maplewood and now lives in St. Paul, will take over the county’s 6,500 acres of parks and rec facilities May 5 when he moves into the department’s offices near Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. He will be paid $137,000 a year.
County Manager Julie Kleinschmidt chose him last week to replace Greg Mack, who is retiring after 26 years in the job.
“Greg has done a tremendous job building the park system and its amenities, and my job is about being a good steward of that and looking for ways to improve,” Oyanagi said Thursday.
In many ways, his 30-plus years working in parks and recreation have been directed at preparing him for this job.
Since graduating from the University of Minnesota, Oyanagi has run the park system in St. Peter, Minn., supervised recreation in Eagan, managed operations for the Anoka County’s park system and served as one of three district managers for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.
For the last six years he has been recreation and parks director for Brooklyn Park, where he oversaw efforts to build a $400,000 competitive wheelchair softball field — the only one in the five-state region — and remade the nine-hole Brookland golf course into a user-friendly golf park with shorter holes, fewer sand traps and more appeal for younger golfers.
During his tenure, Brooklyn Park got its first dog park, added community gardens at the Eidem farm and Crystal Airport and developed a playground that’s handicapped-accessible.
“Jon is an innovative leader who thinks creatively to ensure that he is able to provide facilities and services that meet the community’s needs,” Kleinschmidt said.
Oyanagi said that the parks have a major role to play in closing the county’s racial and income disparities. They offer places where everyone can gather, exercise or simply relax.
“I’m looking forward to serving the residents of Ramsey County,” he said.