Kevin Brady spent nine years as executive director of the Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District. He inherited a park system that was in pretty good shape. He can leave town knowing he made it better.
Brady retired Friday. He came to the area from Alaska to replace former executive director Jim McClelland. Under McClelland’s watch, the park system had grown into one of the best in the state, if not the best.
“I was very fortunate to come into a staff that was very competent, loyal, dedicated, and hard-working, knew what needed to be done and did it,” Brady told The Herald-Dispatch reporter Fred Pace in an interview last week. “They took pride in the work they did and continue to do. I would put this staff up against any park district staff anywhere. I will miss them.”
Brady’s tenure as leader of the district was marked by nine new playgrounds, expanded recreational programming and a focus on serving all members of the community, no matter their ability level.
The most controversial project Brady undertook was replacing most of the old playground at Ritter Park. It was nearly 40 years old and out-of-date. Some parents liked it, but the concrete slopes concerned others as they feared a fall would result in a lost tooth, a broken bone or worse.
“When I started tearing down the old Ritter Park playground, some people wanted to run me out of town,” Brady told Pace. “They had kids that had grown up playing on that playground and it had been there since the early ’80s. We found it had priority one safety hazards, and in today’s world it was dangerous.”
Most of the old playground was replaced with an approximately $300,000 playground that’s a couple of pieces away from being completely all-inclusive. Building the new playground forced a rearrangement of Brady’s plans for an upgrade of that part of Ritter Park, but the change was needed.
“We have a total of nine new playgrounds over the past seven years,” Brady said. “Playgrounds and parks are a critical part of getting the family together.”
The most ambitious of Brady’s plans was the new playground at St. Clouds Common, which is about 50 percent complete. It’s designed to be an all-inclusive playground where children of different abilities can play together.
“Different kids with different abilities can all just have fun and play,” he said. “The kids are going to love the splash pad.”
Kathy McKenna will be the park district’s interim director while the park board searches for a permanent replacement for Brady.
The first reaction is that the park board must look for someone who can continue what McClelland and Brady started. Ritter Park is the jewel in the district’s crown, and its ambiance must be preserved. But there are other parks in the system. Some are large and some are small. All are important to their neighborhoods and the visitors who enjoy them. The district also maintains several cemeteries.
One question will be what sort of vision the park district’s elected board has for the park system as the region’s needs and resources change over the next decade. Brady saw the need to welcome children of all abilities — many of whom had little or no equipment to play on at the parks.
Will the new executive director focus on building more parks, improving maintenance at the existing ones or implementing a program to meet the needs of an underserved segment of the region’s population?
Those are the questions that people who use the park system will want answered.