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Connect > A modest McElhinny departs after 35 years
A modest McElhinny departs after 35 years
A modest McElhinny departs after 35 years
June 30, 2015 - Posted in:
While it’s not shocking to see a man toting a golf club around the office last week, a week before his retirement, Jim McElhinny’s motivation was a tad unconventional.
At his penultimate meeting with THPRD management earlier that day, McElhinny produced the club (which he had hidden in the conference room the night before), pulled some golf balls out of his pocket, and began putting as the meeting got underway.
As he departs from THPRD on June 30 after 35 years, the modest McElhinny is more inclined to enjoy a good laugh than to reflect on the legacy of his work, including the last 15 years as the district’s director of Park & Recreation Services.
“When you drive around the district and see people walking in a park, or playing on a structure, throwing a ball or swimming in a pool, they’re having fun, exercising and enjoying a healthier lifestyle,” McElhinny said. “There are a lot of little things along the way that if I contributed to them, I’m happy.”
Like a good team captain, he is quick to deflect success to his teammates. That’s no surprise. After all, he got his start in team sports, joining THPRD in 1980 as men’s/boy’s sports coordinator. The job title suggests just how much things have changed during his tenure.
“Apparently men’s sports and women’s sports were so different you had to have a different coordinator for them,” said McElhinny. “After a couple of years we changed the title to sports coordinator. Sports are sports; there was no reason to differentiate.”
Speaking calmly at his desk, in an office he still hadn’t begun packing in earnest, McElhinny said he will leave taking great satisfaction in the district’s efforts to make programming available to those who may not otherwise have recreational opportunities.
“Watching out for the little guy has always been important to me, helping someone who might find it tough to get our services or afford them,” he said, citing the importance of the Rec Mobile and Nature Mobile programs.
“If kids weren’t doing that, what would they be doing? We’ve given people a place to go for good, healthy and safe activities.”
He draws inspiration from the district’s mission, he says, and encourages employees to use it as motivation to continue to move the district forward.
“We touch people, we can make their day,” McElhinny said. “The services we provide are invaluable, even to people who don’t know they’re using them.”
A year ago, retirement wasn’t on McElhinny’s mind. He was preoccupied with a more immediate concern: impending surgery to remove skin cancer.
“What a difference a year makes,” said McElhinny, whose first day of retirement, July 1, is the anniversary of his first procedure.
As he recovered from his initial 12-hour surgery, McElhinny said it was impossible not to have an altered perspective on life.
“I don’t see how anyone couldn’t be affected,” said McElhinny of the time he spent in intensive care, recognizing how fortunate he was to walk out of the hospital in relatively good health.
He began pondering retirement last fall, discussing the idea with Liz, his wife of 34 years. In January, the month after a second (scheduled) surgery, he made it official.
“How do you know it’s your time? It’s very personal,” McElhinny said. “When the time comes, though, it’s pretty clear.”
Liz, he says, will work at least another year before joining him in retirement.
In the meantime, he said, his schedule is already beginning to fill. McElhinny will continue his volunteer work with Kiwanis Doernbecher Children’s Cancer Program, discover a few of the area’s nine-hole golf courses and do some traveling – British Columbia, Vashon Island – that will provide him opportunities to catch a few more of the Pacific Northwest’s aerobatic airplane shows.
When you add a list of home improvement projects and regular attendance at Oregon State Beavers football and basketball games, it’s a pretty full life. Nevertheless, he says he’ll still keep an eye on the district’s progress. The development of the Model Community Sports Park in Aloha – including a field for special needs athletes – is just one project he’s eager to see completed.
As you might expect from a consummate people person, though, it’s not the projects that he’ll miss.
"I won't miss the stuff,“ McElhinny said, "but I will miss the people.”