Parks & Rec director stepping down after 25 years with city

by: VERN UYETAKE - Kim Gilmer is eagerly anticipating new adventures in her future. She can also look back upon a remarkable career in Lake Oswego.In 1987 Kim Gilmer was not sure she wanted to accept a job as a recreation supervisor for the city of Lake Oswego. She was well on her way to earning a degree at Oregon State University that would qualify her to become a science teacher.

But her supervisor with the Albany Parks & Recreation Department told her, “Hey Kim, you are a parks person.”

“I was conflicted about it,” Gilmer said, “but I went ahead and applied for the job. I never imagined I would have a career like this and have so much fun.”

Gilmer was a parks person, all right. She went on to play a crucial role in changing the face of Lake Oswego over the next 25 years,

“There has never been a routine day ever!” Gilmer said. “There is constant problem solving and finding creative ways to work with what you have, especially staying within the budget. Our motto was we can achieve anything they want to achieve — we hope.”

On March 1, though, this remarkable era for this city will come to an end when Gilmer steps down as director of the Lake Oswego Parks & Recreation Department. Gilmer practically blooms with physical fitness, but she is at peace about her decision to retire.

“Everything good comes to an end,” Gilmer said, and her quarter century in Lake Oswego was so good.

“This has really been a fun job,” she said. “I was here when the city wanted to grow its park system, and I was in on the design and building of new parks. Hazelia Field was my baby from the beginning to the end. It has been great to see the energy that goes into making these projects come about.

“The quality of life in Lake Oswego is just a little bit extra because of our parks. They are not plug and play parks where you get only a perfunctory park experience. Those parks are important, but we have the kind of parks where you can do so much more. They define what this community is about.”

The announcement of Gilmer’s retirement opened floodgates of praise from the people she worked with over the years. Some of them think Gilmer hung the moon and then some.

“Kim has contributed more to the quality of life in Lake Oswego than any other individual,” said Steve Dodds, a member of the city’s Parks & Recreation Advisory Board. “The all-weather fields, Luscher Farm, the trails system, the senior center. Our parks system is the most highly regarded in the western United States, and Kim is the one responsible. She is very solid and very level-headed.”

“Kim is certainly universally regarded as one of the best parks and recreation directors in the region,” said Jim Desmond, director of Metro’s Sustainability Center and a Lake Oswego resident. “She has tremendous respect from her peers. Our parks system is a prime driver of why the quality of life in Lake Oswego is so good and why people want to live here.

“She has been so innovative, especially with Luscher Farm, bringing in agriculture, the dog park and sports fields. With Foothills Park she brought the river into the city. Kim was always a calm, steady hand at the wheel.”

“Kim was one of the major people who transformed life in this community,” said Doug Schmidt, former city manager for Lake Oswego. “Over a decade she brought parks and recreation into the technological age and she was a great steward of public open spaces.”

It was not always great, sweeping action to transform Lake Oswego for Gilmer. She was often in the cauldron of decision making, which involved dealing with many strong opinions until a solution was reached. One key reason was she always had lots of help.

“We have a great staff that I love. It’s like a well-oiled machine. You can’t provide the high level of service expected in Lake Oswego without it. I’ve been blessed,” she said.

Also, Gilmer has simply been made of the right stuff to handle such a demanding and often controversial job. Her friends like to tell the story of how “Sweet Kim” once trekked through the Arctic Circle all alone for nine days.

One time during this epic outing Gilmer had a facedown with a grizzly bear. She won. The bear ran away.

Gilmer was able to withstand the slings and arrows of outraged citizenry.

As she anticipates her retirement, Gilmer has absolutely no idea of what she is going to do, and she likes it that way. Maybe she will become an artist. Maybe she will travel the world. All of that freedom will take some getting used to.

“For the first week it’s going to feel like a vacation,” Gilmer said. “After that it’s going to feel funny.”

Without Kim Gilmer, Lake Oswego is going to feel different, too.

“She’s almost irreplaceable,” said Dodds. “I’m saddened that she’s leaving at this point and time.”

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