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District leaders legacy a winner for parks

by: Mikel Kelly, Ron Willoughby’s last act as general manager of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District will be to preside over a new partnership that will build a $10 million sports complex near PCC’s Rock Creek campus.

When Ron Willoughby walks out the doors of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District administrative offices for the last time Friday, it will be with two big distinctions: He's only the third general manager in the park district's 51-year history and he's the longest-serving employee.

Having worked as the agency's general manager for 13½ years, Willoughby was hired in 1971 after working for the Eugene Park and Recreation District.

While his early career included responsibility for such things as coordinating youth and adult basketball and baseball programs, Willoughby now oversees daily operations of an expansive 55-plus square mile district that serves a population of more than 200,000 residents. His staff includes 154 full-time employees.

'A park district to me is an essential service and it's here for folks to enjoy and increase their quality of life,' said Willoughby. 'It's been a great agency to work for and be an employee of and it's been a great career for me personally.'

Sports award

While the milestones of his tenure as general manager are many, Willoughby's No. 1, top-of-the-list accomplishment is passage of a $26 million bond in 1994. That bond money paid for the new athletic center at the main Howard M. Terpenning Recreation Complex, which includes indoor basketball courts and a state-of-the-art running track.

In addition, the bond made possible construction of the Conestoga Recreation and Aquatic Center and the Tualatin Hills Nature Park Interpretive Center building on Southwest Millikan Boulevard.

Willoughby also is proud of Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District's 50th anniversary recognition by Sports Illustrated, giving the organization its 'Sportstown USA' award. The magazine lauded the rec district for being 'No. 1 in Oregon.'

During his career, one program Willoughby was happy to see to fruition was boxing, which has been held in the basement of the Garden Home Recreation Center since the early 1980s. It was a program that the community sought and the district helped make a reality. While there was initial concerns that there might not be enough interest in boxing (and what type of message creating such a class would send), those fears were quickly knocked out.

'It's worked out really well,' he said. 'It's a great - what I call a sport - and I think it really builds character in youth and adults.'

'Great partnership'

Willoughby's last official duty will be attending this afternoon's groundbreaking ceremonies for a 32-acre sport fields partnership between the district and Portland Community College's Rock Creek campus.

'That's a great partnership,' said Willoughby.

Plans are to build two synthetic turf fields, four baseball/softball diamonds and six tennis courts. The fields and courts all will be illuminated for nighttime activities.

An agreement calls for PCC to lease the land to the district, which will develop the recreation complex, for $1 a year for 25 years with an option to add another 15 years to the agreement.

'The park district in turn will spend $10.1 million, approximately, to develop the property,' said Willoughby.

Under the agreement, the district will have access on evenings and the weekends, with PCC using facilities during school hours.

The groundbreaking ceremony is at 2 p.m. near the PCC campus, 17705 N.W. Springville Road.

In the future, as funds become available, construction of an aquatic center on the site is a possibility, said Willoughby.

John Griffiths, president and a seven-year member of the Tualatin Hills Park and Recreation District Board, said he appreciated Willoughby's operational skills, noting that the general manager has run a solid operation and a tight ship.

Griffiths too is proud of the Sports Illustrated honor and other awards the district has received over the years.

'He's brought the program to where it earns national awards,' said Griffiths. 'That doesn't happen every day.'

Filling the job

In retirement, Willoughby plans to take some time off before traveling with his wife Judy to state and national parks.

He also plans to just take life easy.

'That's what retirement is suppose to be,' he said.

Although his last day is Friday, Willoughby's contract calls for him to be available for advice or recommendations until Dec. 31.

Now the parks district's five-member board must select a successor.

As of a deadline set last Friday, an estimated 30 applications had been received from across the nation, all interested in the general manager slot, which will pay a salary range from $6,991 to $10,038 per month plus benefits.

Those applications will be screened and the board will soon decide whom to interview.