Joe Snook was 11 years old the last time Lee’s Summit had to hire someone to head up the parks and recreation division.
The man chosen back then, Tom Lovell, retired last spring, leaving a 6-foot-6 void where the former Administrator of the Lee’s Summit Parks & Recreation Department used to stand.
Behind Tom, though, was Snook — a nearly 17-year employee at Lee’s Summit Parks & Recreation, who spent the past decade serving as an assistant administrator to Lovell.
Together, the two tackled mountainous initiatives, including oversight of the construction of Legacy Park in 2003; construction of Summit Waves Aquatic Center in 2008; renovations to Harris Park in 2010; and numerous strategic plans and accreditation projects that kept our parks and recreation department among some of the greatest in the nation.
Building a world-class parks program happens over many decades and through much sweat equity — perhaps even with some blood, tears and skin in the game.
Tom Lovell, as we all know, was part of that process from his start in the late 1970s all the way through the spring of 2017 and his retirement.
During the interim, it’s been Snook, someone that took his tutelage under Lovell extremely seriously. Like any young Jedi, it’s unlikely Snook and Lovell always saw eye to eye. The learning and decision-making processes are sometimes difficult, even strained, when two strong and dynamic personalities are involved.
But in the end, the goal is common and unified: the betterment of our parks system, our community health and in encouraging active lifestyles.
That gap from the spring of 2017 to when Snook officially was named administrator by the Parks Board last week was certainly a time of continued learning for him and his entire staff.
The weekly e-mails now bared Snook’s thoughts and signature line. And all the community- and event-driven nature of that job shifted to Snook — someone seemingly as comfortable at a Lee’s Summit Chamber of Commerce or city event as Lovell was for all those years.
The Parks Board’s greatest challenge was one in front of many of our community organizations and certainly one we find often inside Lee’s Summit City Hall — to hire qualified candidates from within (when those employees are available) or look regionally or nationally for a replacement.
The latter is a certainly a nod to the massive growth and national acclaim our parks department had gained under Lovell and Snook with the help of a world-class staff of paid employees and a massive army of volunteers at its ready.
It took a little while to get there. We know these hiring decisions often do, whether at our hall, at another municipality or in the private sector.
But the Parks Board clearly made the right decision in this promotion and didn’t let too much of 2018 escape us before making that announcement. Having a permanent leader in the big seat is good for progress, employee relations, morale and in continuing to move forward all that is happening in our parks — from Legacy to Lea McKeighan and in virtually every corner of our town.
If Snook takes the breadth of his experience and the depth of knowledge he’s learned under Lovell, there is no doubt he will lead this department well for another couple of decades.
And who knows? Maybe a future Parks & Recreation Administrator is currently an 11-year-old boy or girl, right here in Lee’s Summit, playing baseball, softball or soccer. Someone who may find himself, or herself, one day donning a polo shirt that reads, “Every Age, Every Season.”
And someone dreaming big that one day they can run one of the largest and most-decorated parks systems in the country.
Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.