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December 11, 2012

RECREATIONAL CENTER: For 40 years, Wilkerson has been at the heart of parks department

NEW ALBANY — Kathy Wilkerson reminded the New Albany-Floyd County Parks Board that she still had a pulse the evening they unanimously voted to name the Griffin Activity Center after her.

Buildings are named after people that have passed away, and Wilkerson stressed that she’s very much still alive. Despite her objections, the board insisted on recognizing a woman who recently began her fifth decade as a local parks employee.

Wilkerson — who is NA-FC Parks Recreation Director — started her 41st year with the department Nov. 30. Her career embarked under then Parks Superintendent Sam Peden, as Wilkerson worked at the West Market Street Recreation Center.

Wilkerson loved working with children, and her enthusiasm was noticed by her superiors.

She quickly was promoted to a position at the Vance Recreation Center, and it wasn’t long after that when Peden asked if she’d be willing to work in administration.

“I remember the day I refused, and he would not take no for an answer,” Wilkerson said, as she added she eventually caved-in to Peden’s request.

“That was a decision I soon learned was a good one.”

MANY CHANGES

The department often struggled for funding, and parks employees had to be creative to keep children’s activities going, Wilkerson recalled. Sometimes that meant buying arts supplies with your own money, she said.

But like a teacher, the parks employees loved kids and realized dipping into their own pockets to support them was just part of the job.

Wilkerson saw the city and county merge into a joint parks system in 1994, and worked through a lengthy debate this year that resulted in the pending split of the department.

Just like Wilkerson has been trusted to mentor and supervise children for more than 40 years, she’s been tasked with leading the New Albany Parks Department during its infancy phase. She will serve as interim director of the new department beginning Jan. 1, though she’s only agreed to hold the position for a short time.

By spring, Wilkerson will again be immersed in planning programs for kids. The Griffin Activity Center has been at the heart of her efforts, as inner-city children flock to the facility for entertainment as well as instruction.

“This is a safe place, and the kids know we have something going on all the time,” Wilkerson said. “We have very strict rules at our center, yet it’s a fun place to be.”

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