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Anderson retires as Middlebury’s recreation director

MIDDLEBURY — Tom Anderson has spent the past 15 years coordinating recreation programs for Middlebury-area residents.
Now, at age 63, Anderson wants to have some outdoor fun on his own time.
“I guess after all these years, it’s time for me to recreate a little,” Anderson said with a smile on Tuesday. “I love to hike, snowshoe and kayak.”
Anderson will be retiring next week as the town’s recreation director, leaving a field in which he has been employed for more than four decades. He arrived in Middlebury in 1997, taking over for then-Recreation Director Tom Lebiecki. Prior to that, Anderson had worked many years in recreation posts in Oakville, Ontario, and Beaconsville, Quebec.
Anderson, a Canadian national, quickly took to his new town and country.  He became a U.S. citizen in 2003. It was then-governor James Douglas of Middlebury who administered the oath to Anderson and other newly minted Americans at a ceremony in Shelburne.
“I have come to love this state and enjoy it here,” Anderson said.
He also enjoyed the job, one that he said included “some victories and defeats.” He acknowledged drawing criticism at selectboard meetings when the recreation department did not generate the necessary revenues to balance expenditures during some budget years.
Accounting issues aside, he said he hopes the recreation department will gain more esteem as a function of town government.
“I find sometimes that the parks and recreation department is viewed as a less essential service when compared to the other departments, and we are the only one expected to produce revenue,” Anderson said. “I really think the parks and recreation department is a very important component to a municipality. It makes the municipality whole, and an attractive place to live and visit.”
Anderson believes the positives far outweighed the negatives during his tenure. Those positives, he said, included:
• Creation of the Harold Curtiss Park in East Middlebury, and installation of the playground for young children in the town’s recreation park.
“We put those in by securing grants with some town funds,” Anderson said. “Those parks have been well received and well attended.”
• Expansion of youth soccer programming. When Anderson began, the recreation department’s soccer program served around 35 children. It has grown to serve more than 200 players.
The “Panther” program has consequently grown as an offshoot.
“I really feel we have built a solid program,” Anderson said. “Soccer has grown to a higher level in the town.”
•  Growth of the summertime Camp Kookamunga.
“We have made changes to that with more exciting trips and creative activities,” Anderson said. The camp is expanding this summer to seven weeks in length due to demand. He gave high marks to the young staff that runs the camp.
•  Evolution of the annual “Turkey Trot” race from one that Anderson said was primarily competitive in nature, to one that also emphasizes family fun.
“I noticed that when I arrived here, all of the same people were winning the turkeys and the prizes because they were the best runners,” Anderson said. “I changed that so that it became more of a community event.”
As a result, all participants — not just the fastest ones — have a shot at prizes, according to Anderson.
•  Flowery and well-manicured parks and green spaces. Anderson said his department has worked in concert with public works to help make Middlebury sparkle for locals and tourists.
He added the department has been able to offer a diverse collection of seasonal recreation programs. The core sports programs and camps continue to be successful; other offerings have flourished or fallen by the wayside based on interest.
Anderson also believes he made his office very responsive to the public and clients.
“We have a policy of getting back to people — at least within 24 hours,” Anderson said.
He leaves the job on June 15 with no regrets. Town officials expect it will take several months to recruit a new recreation director. In the meantime, they will advertise for an interim director to ensure continuity during the busy summer ahead.
Middlebury recreation Advisory Board Chairwoman Monica Benjamin said Anderson will be missed. She praised him for attending many recreation conferences throughout the country and returning energized with ideas for Middlebury. She cited the game of “disc golf” as an example. Some disc golf baskets are currently set up on Middlebury College land near the Eddy Farm School for Horse and Rider. The ultimate goal is for those baskets to be set up at Wright Park, Benjamin noted.
“(Tom) has been a great recreation director for the town of Middlebury,” she said.
Anderson will maintain a residence in Addison County while spending some time each year in Tennessee, where his son resides and is carrying on the family tradition of being a recreation director. Both of his sons are following that path, he said.
He will fondly recollect his time in Middlebury.
“People in town I have found to be pro-recreation,” Anderson said. “I have made a lot of good friends.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
 

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