Before he retires in a couple of months, Pierre parks and rec. Director Tom Farnsworth has some people he wants to thank.

Multiple mayors and the commissioners and the people who represented the advisory boards he oversaw in over 500 meetings he estimated he was in over the past 15 and a half years. The Pierre School District, which educated his children. The many city workers who act as the boots on the ground for city projects, like those putting up the public Christmas ornaments he noted during a Monday drive down Dakota Avenue. And the people of Pierre themselves.

Farnsworth will retire on Jan. 31, city communications manager Brooke Bohnenkamp confirmed to the Capital Journal last week, after nearly 16 years of service. He started with the city in June 2006 after years as a city administrator in Winner. The plan from here is to move in the coming months to the Omaha suburbs to be closer to a daughter, but Farnsworth said he certainly wants to come back to Pierre if only to see the new public pool expected to open in 2023.

“Tom definitely (leaves) big shoes to fill, there’s no doubt about that,” Pierre City Administrator Kristi Honeywell said on Monday. “It’s going to be tough, we’re going to be looking for someone who has really good communications skills and has the ability to facilitate the boards that Tom has.”

Just this year in Griffin Park, under Farnsworth’s tutelage, the city oversaw the start of construction on the new pool, the relocation of the city skate park displaced by the pool project and the start of a public-private agreement to bring in new pickleball courts to satisfy players of one of Pierre’s fastest-growing sports.

“Tom has been here the entire time that I’ve been part of the Pierre City Commission, and he is a wealth of knowledge, he’s dependable, he’s great to work with, he always finds solutions to all kinds of problems, and the parks and rec is more than just the parks and the summer rec program,” Pierre City Commissioner Jamie Huizenga told the Capital Journal. “We’ve got pools, and we have softball and baseball and all the coordinating that goes behind the scenes and he’s just been a steady hand with all these different outside groups as they’ve expanded facilities and just the logistics of coordinating the use of baseball fields and softball fields and all that goes with that.”

Commissioner Todd Johnson, whose assignment on the Pierre City Commission is parks and rec, called Farnsworth “phenomenal” and said he helped the newly-minted commissioner with his transition earlier this year.

“Right away he was up front and he connected me with the different boards and the committees that work to run seamless like they are,” Johnson said.

In a Monday interview with the Capital Journal, Farnsworth said the achievement he was most proud of in his time was, more than any one park project, his work directly with the people of Pierre and its parks department.

“There’s a number of projects... but I think my biggest enjoyment was working with people,” Farnsworth said. “My position is a lot of facilitation, communication, putting groups together to achieve the projects. I’m really, really blessed that I had great staff in parks, golf, cemetery, rec. I really respect them. Nothing gets done in the city until those I’ve always called the boots on the ground people get it done. The mayor appropriates money and the commissioners set policy, they can give directives like the city administrators, but I give all the credit in the world to the men and women out there in the field that are working every day. They get it done.”

Farnsworth noted that tax dollars can only go so far in cities of Pierre’s size, so partnerships, like the one Pierre signed with the Capital Area Pickleball Association earlier this year, are key.

“These partnerships are really, really fun, they’re really key for a community like Pierre because it stretches your tax dollars when you can partner with the private sector and then obtain grants to go with that or donations,” Farnsworth said. “It’s what really kickstarts your projects. And sometimes (in) parks and rec, we call it the quality-of-life areas, might be one of the last to get funded sometimes. And I respect that. People need their water, they need to eat, electricity, sewer, good streets. So quality of life sometimes, you don’t always get what you want and that’s fair. But when the user groups, the passionate groups that come forward, and I saw it happen so many times, so many examples, like Hyde Stadium.”

Farnsworth said a parks administrator in Huron called him last week at the behest of Huron Mayor Gary Harrington asking how the city was able to get renovations at Hyde Stadium done.

“That truly is what I will remember is the people,” Farnsworth said. “They know that government can’t be all things to everyone. So, you look at the pickleball project. They came to the park and rec board. I have three advisory boards — park and rec, golf and arbor board. I meet about every month with them, and that’s where really these projects are born.”

There have been other projects that didn’t quite make it — roller derby and lacrosse are two — and the flood made for tough years in 2011 and 2012, when over 300 acres of green space were affected.

“But one of the greatest things about this community is that people give back,” Farnsworth said. “When they like something and they want it, they’ll work with you and it stretches our tax dollars. I’ve just had a lot of satisfaction seeing that happen.”

That satisfaction extends into his life in Pierre outside of work, Farnsworth said.

“It’s a wonderful community and wonderful people,” Farnsworth said. “And they’ve given more to me and my family just by being friends. And, you know, we don’t get everything we want, but I’m really proud of the accomplishments.”

Honeywell said she expects the city will have “good interest” in Farnsworth’s position, though she did not know if anyone has applied for the opening as of Monday.

“We’re not necessarily looking for somebody with a strong parks and rec background,” Honeywell said. “But we are looking for someone that can be a really good team leader, good management skills and just really that ability to find a consensus throughout what he does.”

Michael Woodel | 605-224-7301 ext. 131

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