Parks director to retire after 47 yearsNovember 24, 2020
By CHRISTINE STEPHENSON
Ken Buck has lived and breathed parks and recreation for the past 47 years. Even when he goes out to eat with his wife on the weekends, he usually stops and talks to residents about anything from baseball fields to parks and golf courses.
“You’ve got to live and breathe it,” said Buck, director of the Jasper Park and Recreation Department. “Maybe that’s good and bad, but you almost have to if you want to get things built up.”
By this time next month, Buck will be wrapping up his time with the department and retiring.
Originally from Terre Haute, the 69-year-old moved to Jasper with his wife, Laura, right after graduating from Indiana State University with a degree in parks and recreation management.
While he was the department’s assistant manager for two years, he thought about leaving. But then fate happened, he said, and he got promoted in 1976 at 25 years old.
He knew then he was meant to stay here.
In his time as director, Buck has spearheaded projects such as the Jasper Riverwalk, several parks and youth sports complexes, and additions to Buffalo Trace Golf Course. The Parklands of Jasper, a 75-acre nature destination, is the highlight of Buck’s career, he said.
“[The parks department] catered to the wealthy, it catered to the poor,” he said. “It catered to everybody.”
In his time with the department, Buck has worked with five different mayors. Former Mayor Bill Schmitt, who worked with Buck for 20 years, said Buck was instrumental to the department because he always knew how to work with every kind of person.
"The thing I found with Kenny Buck was he had the personality and ability to get along with people and make things work," Schmitt said. "He was always wiling and able to take on new projects and think outside of the box of normal parks thinking."
When Buck moved to Jasper, only about 7,000 people lived there, and everybody knew each other. No matter where he’d go, people would always ask him who he was and where he came from. But everybody was friendly, he said, and the town was easy to call home.
Over the years, Buck has watched the city grow. It looks little like it did back in the 1970s. Through his job, he got to help Jasper expand to what it is today.
One of the best decisions the department ever made was to hire high school and college students, Buck said. He enjoyed preparing them for the real world and helping them mature.
“We hired about 75 kids every summer, at the pool, golf, maintenance, all over town,” he said. “We’d take a 15-, 16-, 17-year-old kid and treat them with respect … We’ve had a lot of good people come through here that are prosecutors, doctors, teachers, it goes on and on and on.”
Buck can still remember when Dr. Dean Beckman, a physician in Jasper, worked as a pool manager. At the time, he was still debating whether to attend medical school.
“I said, ‘You go,’” Buck recalled. “‘The pool will always be here. You go.’”
Watching people like Beckman grow has been more rewarding than any money or rewards Buck’s ever received, he said. It’s something he doesn’t want to give up, but he knows it’s time.
“It’s bittersweet, but I’m ready,” he said.
Throughout his life, Buck has always been busy. On top of his director responsibilities, he was a physical education teacher at Vincennes University Jasper for almost two decades, part of the Dubois County golf committee and is still a trustee of Bainbridge Township.
“I’ve always wanted something to do all the time,” he said.
Retirement is going to be hard because Buck doesn’t know how to slow down. He looks forward to having more time to fish, golf and enjoy the nature of Jasper — the reason why he built his life here in the first place.
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