Shepherd retires from recreation after 32 years

Programs expanded to schools during his career

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Arthur Shepherd, recreation division manager for the St. Mary's County Department of Recreation and Parks, and an unsuccessful candidate for county commissioner last year, is retiring after more than 32 years on the job.

His last day is Friday, May 27.

The county agency was only nine years old when he started as a seasonal, part-time employee in 1978.

Funded by a federal grant from the President Jimmy Carter administration, Shepherd moved into a recreation coordinator position when there were only three people on the recreation side of the department.

Shepherd's first boss was the department's first director, John V. Baggett, who retired in 1991 and died in 1999. Shepherd's second was and is Director Phil Rollins. Shepherd said he was lucky to work for two good bosses during his career.

"I was given an opportunity for meaningful work for children and families," he said, and in developing relationships with the public school system and sheriff's office, "working with some dedicated and committed volunteers."

Working in a diverse community, he said, "it took a good team. I'm grateful that I was part of it."

"He's going to be hard to replace," Rollins said Monday. "I'm not sure he is replaceable. Just his qualities as a person, it's going to be a huge loss. He's a true professional — very loyal to the department and the county.

"For me, he's the epitome of a public servant."

When Shepherd first started out, he shared an office on Lei Drive in the old Lexington Manor neighborhood, also known as the Flattops, before moving to Leonardtown Middle School.

Shepherd has been recreation division manager since 1993.

School space has been critical to the success of recreation programs in the county, Shepherd said.

Schools are now community centers in the evenings, he said. There are now 90 recreation and parks basketball teams; there were six when he first started.

Other buildings that used to be schools have become part of the network of facilties hosting recreation programs.

One of the buildings from the old Leonard Hall School in Leonardtown is now used for indoor sports like roller hockey, lacrosse, roller skating and soccer. Summer camps and leisure classes use the old Hollywood Elementary School on Mervell Dean Road, where space is shared with a medical adult day care program

The old Carver Elementary School in Lexington Park has a "very high-functioning, after-school program there" four days a week, he said.

Along with a high-speed computer lab, the building hosts competitive cheerleading, indoor soccer and basketball. Shepherd reintroduced the Summerstock dramatic program to the county in 1986. The gymnastics program has been going strong in Millison Plaza in Lexington Park for 14 years now, he said, with about 500 children registered per session.

The costs of the recreation programs all are covered by a self-sustaining enterprise fund generated by user fees, Shepherd said. Even the red ink at the Great Mills Swimming Pool, which constantly loses money, is covered by the recreation fund.

"Arthur's essentially been running a $2.5 million recreation business," Rollins said. "He's done an incredible job for the county."

One facility that fell by the wayside during Shepherd's time was the amphitheater at Henderson Park behind Great Mills High School. Concerts were held at the amphitheater during the summer. And around Halloween would come the Theater of Blood program, complete with program volunteers chasing visitors out at the end of the tour with an actual chain saw.

"There was a lot to that," Shepherd said, "a lot of risk and liability there," so the Theater of Blood expired.

Last year, Shepherd's bid for county commissioner fell short. Commissioner Dan Morris (R) was his opponent.

Morris said Monday of Shepherd, "I have the utmost respect for him. I sincerely wanted him to stay. He really is a good guy. What else can you say? It's going to be hard to replace him."

Will Shepherd run again for commissioner? "I think I've retired from the work of county government," he said. Things may change in the future, "but that's a long ways off," he said. "Honor God — that's what I want to do" in coming years through his church.