Showing The Colors

Editor’s Note: This column, “LBWA” (Leadership By Wandering Around), is based on the premise that, in order to find out what’s going on in the field, a parks and rec leader has to leave his or her desk and “wander around” the area of operations, talk to people, ask questions, and kick around ideas with the individuals in the thick of delivering services to the public. So the author will bring up issues and ask the leaders among the readership to share their knowledge and experiences.

When I took this job in 1997, I was coming off a 20-year stint in the U.S. Marine Corps, where patriotism is a way of life. For the first time I wasn’t surrounded by people who believe America is a special lady, and who are willing to fight and die to protect her.

So when a member of the city council--the wife of a retired Marine--asked me to assist in organizing the city’s first Memorial Day event, I didn’t hesitate. In fact, it was an honor. I was surprised that there had never been that type of event before.

A Tradition Is Born

Working with the local Kiwanis, VFW and American Legion, I put together a fine ceremony attended by about 250 people. It was held in the city hall/library plaza at the new VFW Veterans Memorial. I was happy with the inaugural turnout, but was already thinking of improvements for the next year.

That was 11 years ago. Our most recent ceremony was attended by about 1,200 people. As the event has grown each year, we’ve almost maxed out room in the plaza. More than a dozen groups are involved in the ceremony, and a long list of sponsors provide cash or in-kind support. I strive to involve young people because they are the future of America, and need more than ever to understand where we as a nation have come from, and where we are headed.

Playing The Part

I then began to think about the role recreation departments have or should have in promoting patriotic events for cities. Different agencies may be responsible for organizing this type of event, but in my world special-event coordination falls under the recreation department.

Since implementing the Memorial Day tradition, I have also initiated and continue to coordinate Veterans Day (Nov. 11) and Patriot Day (Sept. 11) events. Our department has coordinated the Fourth of July celebration for many years. So, about every two months, a patriotic event is held to remind the community of the sacrifices that have been made to ensure our freedoms.

Build On Relationships

When I reflect on it, being the “Patriotism Czar” does fit comfortably into the scope of duties that recreation departments encompass. A department is always striving to provide wholesome, no- or low-cost activities for youth and adults, and by so doing, create a sense of “home” in a community. I remind groups I speak to that recreation provides activities that make a community a place people want to come home to, not just a place to hang a hat between commutes.

Patriotic events--in my biased opinion--can definitely fit into that mission. Recreation departments don’t--and shouldn’t--have to go it alone though. These events are usually strongly supported by local civic, veterans and service groups; they can become a strong influence in a community, and can lead to cooperative efforts in other areas.

For example, one of our early Memorial Day partners was the Dixie Wing of the Commemorative Air Force, which flies World War II-era aircraft and provides vintage military equipment displays and re-enactors in various era uniforms. Once the relationship started, the group came back to partner on WWII Heritage Days, which they began five years ago, and is now a highly anticipated annual event.

I don’t know how other recreation departments involve themselves in patriotic matters. I’m sure that, because I am a retired Marine, the city manager is retired Air Force (as was his predecessor), and the current mayor is retired Army, much support is given.

I would like to hear from readers how other recreation departments handle patriotic special events.There really isn’t a “right” way, and it probably varies greatly from place to place. Are the events driven by who is in charge? Or, should recreation departments be the catalyst to form a patriotic corps if no other organization steps forward to coordinate such an effort? E-mail or call me or PRB, and share your experiences and opinions.

Randy Gaddo , a retired Marine, is Director of Leisure Services (parks, recreation, library) in Peachtree City, Ga. Contact him at (770) 631-2542 or e-mail