HARRISONBURG — When the city of Harrisonburg formed its Parks and Recreation Department in 1954, the first director, Cecil F. Gilkerson, was the sole full-time employee who oversaw a staff of part-time workers managing just 1.5 acres of city-owned park property.
Today, Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation maintains more than 650 acres of green space with the help of 48 full-time employees along with more than 75 part-time staff.
To mark the 65th anniversary of Parks and Recreation, the department is hosting a kickoff celebration on Saturday, starting at 11 a.m., at the Cecil F. Gilkerson Community Activities Center.
Saturday’s event will be the first of many slated to be held throughout 2019 to commemorate 65 years of Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation.
“It’s very important for Parks and Recreation to look back and celebrate our past 65 years,” said Brittany Clem, the marketing and special projects coordinator for Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation. “Our past directors’ and staffs’ hard work are the reason that we’ve come as far as we have and they’re also the reason why we’re able to offer as many recreational activities as we do.”
Harrisonburg Mayor Deanna Reed will speak during the ceremony, along with others including the department’s current director, Luanne Santangelo, and Jim Stutts of the Virginia Recreation and Park Society.
Clem said several past Park and Recreation directors will be present at the kickoff.
Lynn Hoy, the senior services coordinator at the Price Rotary Senior Center, has worked for the department in various roles for almost 37 years. She grew up in Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation as the daughter of Gilkerson, starting out selling snow cones at the concession stand when she was 16.
Hoy has witnessed the department’s growth over the decades.
“We’ve had five directors in Parks and Recreation and I’ve worked for all of them,” she said.
Hoy said her father was responsible for acquiring 75 percent of Parks and Recreation’s land.
“He had the foresight all those years ago to acquire park lands,” Hoy said. “They started out with nothing and now we have all the park lands that we have.”
Gilkerson, who is 92 years old, will be recognized at the ceremony for the impact of his service.
The ceremony will also feature a presentation of a special commemorative piece. Old scrapbooks of parks photos will also be on display and guests will be able to play a variety of old-school games.
“Immediately following the ceremony, we will have old refurbished knuckleball tables out. Maintenance reconstructed them so they would be available to play. … [They’re] a community favorite in our parks,” Clem said. “We’ll also have throwback games in the Community Activities Center.”
Knuckleball is a unique game that is only played in the Harrisonburg area, according to Hoy.
“It’s a cool game you play with duckpins and baseballs and a special board that was made for it,” she said. “They’re going to have the original boards. They haven’t been out in 40 years.”
While guests play knuckleball, pinball and other old favorites, a slideshow of park projects and facilities will be shown, and the department will be giving away raffle prizes that include pool passes, facilities memberships and free rounds of golf at Heritage Oaks Golf Course.
Kline’s Dairy Bar will serve ice cream during the event. Westover Pool will open for the day with 65-cent admission in celebration of the 65th anniversary.
Harrisonburg Parks and Recreation will also begin to collect items for a time capsule that will be buried in June 2020.
“We’ll have all year for people to bring their small memory or photograph that we will bury next June,” Clem said.
She said they will announce where the time capsule will be buried at a later date depending on the amount of items they receive from the community. The plan is to have the time capsule opened for Parks and Recreation’s 100th anniversary in 2054.
Items for the time capsule can be dropped off at the front desk of the Community Activities Center at 305 S. Dogwood Drive.
The 65th anniversary kickoff event is free to the public.