Employee of the Year: Jeff Carlson

Employee of the Year: Jeff Carlson
Posted on 09/13/2019

Jeff Carlson has worked for the City of Lenexa’s Parks & Recreation Department for more than three decades. Being selected as Lenexa’s Employee of the Year in 2019 honored Jeff’s enduring contributions to our community. Today, his department maintains more than 30 parks, 34 playgrounds, 14 shelters, 12 restroom facilities, 11 buildings, as well as multiple fountains and pools. In this Q&A, we asked Jeff how his job has changed over time, and which recreation events are his favorites.

As the parks facilities supervisor, what does your job entail?

The parks facilities maintenance supervisor is responsible for the design, construction, maintenance and repair of park-related structures and properties. I direct a staff of 12 and prioritize daily maintenance of our parks and amenities. Every day is a new adventure and our staff must be flexible to handle surprises, but we do our best to be proactive with maintenance. Vandalism is a factor we often deal with.

What was your first job at the city of Lenexa?

I started working for Lenexa in 1981 as a summer job while I was in high school. At that time, there were only three full-time employees and five high-school kids to mow and maintain everything. The city had only eight parks. Most of my time was spent mowing, which was mostly done with push mowers, along with mainlining the softball fields.

How has Lenexa changed over the three decades you have worked for the city?

Well, obviously, it has grown a lot! When I first started, there wasn’t much west of Lackman Road besides empty fields. The one thing that has stayed constant is the desire by city leaders, citizens and staff for Lenexa to be exceptional. We always wanted to be above and beyond our neighboring cities. Throughout the years, we have continued to ask what can we do to be different, better or offer that others don’t.

What was it like to live in the house at Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park? How did it happen?

The city had already acquired several acres from Bob and Dorothy Rose for Sar-Ko-Par Trails Park. When the Roses decided to move, the city acquired the house and the rest of the property. I was offered the opportunity to rent the house and serve as after-hours caretaker of the park. I lived in the house for more than 15 years. At first, the house was a lot more isolated because the park was not as developed as it is today. All three of my children were raised in the house. My kids and their friends always thought it was great to live in the middle of the park!

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?

The best part of my job is being part of something many people get to enjoy. Most people who use the parks are there to relax and enjoy, either by themselves or with family or friends. Every day I see people walking their dogs, kids laughing and playing on the playgrounds, in the pools, or just hanging out in the parks. It’s always been great to be a part of that.

We hear Enchanted Forest is a favorite event of yours. What do you like about it?

Our goal is to entertain the kids, and I think this event allows us to be creative and use our imagination in different ways. I always try to create or provide something a little different from the year before to keep it interesting. Our department works hard to make subtle changes in the hayride, displays, decorations and volunteer skits to keep it interesting for everyone to enjoy.

I also think the Sar-Ko Aglow event is special. With all the different holiday lights spread out across the park, there is a lot to see. We try to add more every year, with more than 60 decorated trees and buildings. I encourage my staff to use their imagination when installing the lights and to add their individual style to make it unique.

What would surprise people to know about the work of park maintenance?

I am fortunate to work with a very talented staff whom I believe can do most everything. I really think people would be surprised to know how many different trades my staff and I are capable of doing. We have done everything from constructing 60-foot-long bridges to building furniture for the Rec Center. We do everything from electrical, plumbing, metal and woodworking, building playgrounds and picking up trash in the parks to maintaining the varied fitness equipment at the Rec Center.

What hidden gem in the Lenexa parks system would you recommend visiting, and why?

When it was first developed, Black Hoof Park was a hidden gem because it was slightly isolated out in west Lenexa. Today, it gets a lot of traffic. It has a lot to offer for its size: Lake Lenexa, trails, playgrounds and open areas — as well as forested ones. I think it has most every amenity you would want in a park.

Published Sept. 13, 2019