FINDLAY - Strolling through Riverbend Recreation Area on a glorious spring day with Tim Brugeman is not exactly a walk in the park.
After 37 years as the Hancock Park District's first director, Mr. Brugeman isn't content to simply enjoy the towering trees, lush plantings, and giggling children.
He wants to straighten a crooked sign, grab stray litter, return a concrete parking curb to its rightful position.
Friday officially was his last day on the job. Park commissioners have hired Gary Pruitt, a former parks and recreation director from Fishers, Ind., as the district's second director.
It's clear Mr. Brugeman, 60, will need some time to adjust to retirement - and he's not going anywhere.
"I'll be here until I'm dead, but my shadow needs to get out of the way so Gary Pruitt can come in and do his job," he said.
Those who have known or worked with Mr. Brugeman since his arrival in Findlay in 1973 as a 23-year-old landscape architect say his dedication has been matched only by his ability to gain consensus and get things done as affordably as possible.
"He's the Energizer Bunny," quipped Hancock County Commissioner Ed Ingold. "Tim had the ability to get people to come to an agreement and move forward with an idea. It didn't matter what the makeup of his board was. It didn't matter what the makeup of the county commissioners was or who the mayor was. Tim was able to work with everybody no matter what."
Jerry Hawkins, chairman of the board of park commissioners, said
Mr. Brugeman is skilled at grant-writing and leveraging projects to access matching money. Sometimes that meant telling the board a project had to wait, but it was always worth the wait, he said.
A 5,000-square-foot lodge that was on the drawing board since 1974 was finally completed at Riverbend in 2002. Recently renamed "Brugeman Lodge," it's now a popular rental facility that pays for itself.
"I think Tim has moved us from a small park, a small idea of the parks, to a substantial park system in Hancock County, and he's been able to help the outlying village parks too in park funding so he's been a tremendous resource for the parks and for the community," Mr. Hawkins said. "He has good ideas. He's the kind of visionary who can see and communicate that and get others interested, and he has a real passion for his work."
Though Mr. Brugeman confesses to have micromanaged the park district at times, he also kept his sights on what the community wanted, what the community was willing to pay for, and stretching those dollars with grants and gifts.
The county park district owns Riverbend east of Findlay and Oakwoods Nature Preserve and Litzenberg Memorial Woods, both west of the city, along with the Blue Rock Nature Preserve south of Findlay and an assortment of small parks along the Blanchard River.
The district also has an unusual partnership with Findlay that has enabled the park district to own and operate parts of city parks such as the sprawling Riverside Park, where it has boat rentals and maintains the waterfront area.
Mr. Brugeman said working together isn't such an unusual concept to him.
"It only makes sense to the taxpayer to get your act together and figure out what needs to be done," he said, matter-of-factly.
His philosophy of supporting city and village parks dates to the early 1970s when the park district was established. Its first acquisition was the 120-acre Riverbend Recreation Area, which at the time was simply farm ground and woods.
It now features a campground, dog park, disc golf course, playground, and lake.
Mr. Brugeman told The Blade in a 1976 interview that the fledgling park district intended to grow slowly and help parks throughout the county before it developed more of its own.
"The goal isn't just to buy a lot of land," he said at the time. "It's to provide recreational facilities as required by the residents."
Asked last week about the future of the park district, which is supported by a 10-year, 0.8-mill operating levy and now owns more than 1,000 acres, Mr. Brugeman again said he did not foresee massive growth.
"We've got to be vigilant about what people want and what we can afford," he said.
And he's still dedicated to helping parks.
He recently helped Washington Township trustees acquire the 75-acre Aeraland Park west of Fostoria that was started by employees of the former Atlas Crankshaft and later taken over by the company's successor, ThyssenKrupp Crankshaft Co.
"ThyssenKrupp wanted to donate it back to the county, but Tim drew up plans and he showed trustees how they can maintain it without much money," Mr. Ingold said.
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