Peer Into The Past

Occasionally, when speaking to students, they ask, “Mr. Davis, what was your most difficult job to get?”

I reply, “My first local community job in Darlington, S.C.” Anticipating the next question, I continue, “The job at the National Recreation and Park Association was the easiest to obtain, but the most difficult.”

Job Hunting

Upon arriving at home from a one-year tour in Korea, I never dreamed that jobs would be so difficult to find. During my search--which lasted six weeks--I discussed the matter with Coach Lyles Alley of Furman University.

He directed me to three vacancies; two were coaching jobs. The other was a municipal recreation and park position in Darlington, a city of 7,000 and the home of the Southern 500 stock-car speedway. I chose to pursue the Darlington job.

I desperately needed work, and this seemed to be the one most easily acquired. After all, I thought, being a recreation director in a small town with a meager budget of $15,600, and a starting salary of $3,200 sounded like a snap compared to my tour in Korea, where I commanded five M-46 tanks and 36 men. I had also served as the 47th Division Assistant Special Services Officer.

After the Armistice, I was assigned the role of the company recreation officer. We built a basketball court for which I organized league play. And then there was softball, flag football and Ping Pong. The troops loved it! But the favorite was tug-of-war. Considering all that, I felt that the Darlington position was one for which I was over-qualified.

What Is A Recreation Degree?

Cliff Brown, chairman of the park and recreation board, tried to convince me that the opposite was true. After our initial meeting he suggested that I return to college to obtain a degree in recreation. I had never heard of such a thing. While he seemed to be impressed with my army experience, I still sensed a reticence on his part to hire a young man with what he considered no experience or education for the job.

He never told me that officials intended to visit my hometown to discuss my reputation with the townspeople, and my high school coach. But he and another board member did just that, driving 150 miles to Ninety-Six, S.C.

It was soon after that I received a call from Mr. Brown, asking Joyce, my wife, and me for a meeting with the board. This conference took place in the city’s memorial center, formerly a home and subsequently a mortuary.

The board was not very forthcoming with conversation. I had enjoyed a feeling of excitement in the belief that they would throw the job my way. Now I felt it slipping away.

Show ‘Em Something

So, I found myself playing a part which I had never experienced. With a feeling of desperation I blurted out, “You have been without a director for eight months, and by your own admission, parents are reluctant to send their children to this center due to a lack of supervision. I can change that.”

I went on to explain my love for people and that I could get to know them quickly.

“But don’t expect me to simply sit around and babysit this center when many other things need to be done. I would endeavor to build a comprehensive program to the extent that the budget will permit,” I firmly stated.

I told the board that this was a good situation. They needed a director and I needed a job.

“I will do more than all of your previous directors. And,” I concluded, “I’m easy to get rid of … all you have to do is tell me.”

I sat back and waited as they looked at each other. No one spoke but they looked shocked. Finally, Mr. Brown asked me to leave the room while they talked. Within 10 minutes, he asked Joyce and me to join them.

When we entered, he shouted, “Congratulations, Mr. Director.”

After a round of handshakes, the chairman asked, “What color do you want us to paint the apartment?” The apartment to which he referred was just beyond the office door. We were to reside in the recreation-center building as part of our remuneration. I never decided if this was a bane or blessing! It was, however, a certainty that it helped us to bond with the youth.

If you are wondering what principle is to be gleaned from this story that could possibly be of any use, let me take a stab at it. So many people are somewhat modest and timid about extolling their capabilities and know-how. Never be backward about telling others at appropriate times about what you stand for, and what you believe in.

In interviewing for a job or promotion, stand up for yourself and don’t be bashful. That is the time to show confidence in who you are and what you believe. You will find that your audience is expecting a lot, but what will impress them the most is … confidence.

Serving Others

Never underestimate the value of your influence. After more than 50 years, Darlington “youth” (now 70+) still call me and occasionally visit us, or invite us to reunions held at Myrtle Beach.

Serving People

So many people in various disciplines continually look for ways to serve others. People who work in park and recreation don’t have to search for such opportunities. That’s built into our jobs. We have possibilities laid in laps every day. The challenge is to take advantage of them.

I’ve learned over these many years that influencing the lives of people in a positive way has a lasting effect … and it’s so much fun … and it’s rewarding to one who has reached his 83rd birthday.

John Davis, after earning a master’s degree from Columbia University in New York in 1957, became the director of parks and recreation in Dalton, Ga. In 1963, he was chosen to head up a new state agency, The Georgia Recreation Commission. Davis served as associate director and director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority for three years. In 1976, he became the director of the National Recreation and Park Association where he served ten years.