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Paul Hennon enters his 27th year of serving Tualatin

HennonCommunity services director Paul Hennon has had his job, in some form, since high school.

That was when Hennon took an occupational course that showed him, he says, “how a recreation program impacts and influences people’s lives: It promotes health and wellness and increases cultural awareness.”

Hennon now oversees recreation activities in Tualatin parks, at the library and at the Juanita Pohl Center, as well as being responsible for cultural programs and public art. And all of this began when he was a teenager, working part-time to promote youth and adaptive recreation programs at the YMCA.

Hennon was inspired to pursue his bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation administration from San Diego State University, and later, his master’s in public administration from the University of Utah. Along the way, he spent a summer working at Yellowstone National Park, accepted the position of campus recreation director at SDSU and later, became manager of recreation for the city of Ogden, Utah.

“It taught me how parks and recreation strengthened community identity and sense of place,” Hennon says of his first few years working in recreation. “It helps people take pride in their community. Parks and recreation (programs) are a part of what helps create that pride and sense of place, and (emphasises) how the protection of natural and cultural and historic resources.”

“For me, it’s all about people and nature,” he adds.

After five years in Utah, Hennon — who had been working steadily since college — decided to catch up on some traveling and spent the next six months driving across the U.S. When it came time to pick a spot to settle, Portland came to mind.

Hennon decided to try a different tactic: instead of letting a job opening dictate where he would land, he wanted to make his decision based on that community’s quality of life, then find a job. When he applied and was hired as Tualatin’s parks and recreation director, he knew he’d made the right choice.

Visionary park plan

The year was 1987, when the city owned about 85 acres of park land. Tualatin now owns 285 acres. (During its Monday meeting, the City Council authorized city manager Sherilynn Lombos to secure about three-quarters of an acre of land along the Tualatin River for future development as a park.)

“There was a lot of undeveloped land in the community then,” Hannon says. “I saw that Tualatin had a pretty visionary parks and recreation master plan, and that there was community support for parks and recreation and library services.”

He bought a home in the Fox Hill development while it was still in its first phase, and he settled into his new position.

It was an exciting time to begin working for Tualatin, which had just seen a 12 percent population increase the year before, Hennon said.

“Steve Rhodes, the city manager (at the time), had created the job in order to get a handle on making the parks and recreation improvements — natural area bikeway improvements, etc. — that needed to happen as the city was expanding. The job then involved park planning and development, park maintenance activities and citywide building maintenance activities,” he says. “As time went on, we developed implementation of an urban forestation program, care and management of the city street tree program and the development of a citywide volunteer program.”

In 1999, then-city manager Steve Wheeler decided to merge parks and recreation and library services in order to optimize the impact of both.

Wheeler noticed that while Hennon’s department had overseen the development of several community parks, the library had seen a decline of servicesin use even as Tualatin’s population had grown. Hennon admits he was somewhat reluctant to take on library services.

Community living room

As the city built a new library, Hennon found that the community wanted the facility to “be like a community living room,” a place that could support childhood development, and also a resource center for all demographics of the community.

“All of that ultimately is about fostering human development and citizenry,” Hennon says. “Teaching people how to read and supporting their love of reading is core, but it’s not the only thing (the library) is about.”

Hennon has tried to apply that philosophy of connection to all areas of the city he oversees.

“What I have found is those same impacts and relationships happen through recreation — at our parks, at the Juanita Pohl Center, at the Tualatin Heritage Center. It doesn’t have to be just in the library that we can have the opportunity to foster human development,” he says. “The staff here, they understand what their missions are. They have that intrinsic motivation for what they’re doing, whether it’s at the Pohl Center or the library.

“We talk regularly about, ‘Why are we doing what we’re doing? How can we be more effective? How can we promote health and wellness?’ ”

Making connections

The desire to improve the quality of life in Tualatin, and to help citizens feel a sense of place, has informed both the style and naming of park projects.

A perfect example of this is Ki-A-Kuts bridge, Hennon explains. The bridge that links Tualatin Community Park with Durham Park and Tigard’s Cook Park creates a large open space.

“We’ve leveraged everybody’s resources — three major parks — to facilitate health and wellness,” Hennon says. “The Tualatin Heritage Society suggested (the name) Ki-A-Kuts, after a tribal leader of the Tuality tribe. He was known as a connector between the native people and those newly arrived. He negotiated the terms of their existence. (The society) saw a parallel between the person and a physical feature that connected communities.”

Hennon is proud of how this sense of history influenced other local projects, like Ibach Park, the first park project he oversaw “from the ground up.” The park was designed to integrate Tualatin’s natural and cultural history in the play features, with sculptures that pay tribute to everything from the mastodon that was unearthed in town, to Tualatin’s early farming days.”

Now in his 27th year working for Tualatin, Hennon credits much of his success to supportive staff and city leaders.

“It’s been a nice thing to have long-term employees,” Hennon says. “You’re at running speed with each other when there’s not a lot of turnover. There’s knowledge, there’s loopback about why we’re doing what we’re doing.”

Hennon shows no signs of retiring soon. He continues to draw satisfaction from promoting health, wellness and recreation in Tualatin.

“It seems universal if you take a best practices approach and you have good staff you can make a very meaningful contribution to the quality of life in the community,” Hennon says.

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