Salina Jim Wemesfelder still remembers when he first interviewed for the position of commissioner of parks and recreation for the town of Salina.
“I was so sure I was not going to get the job, because I was a classroom teacher amongst several phys. ed. teacher candidates. So I went to a Syracuse Chiefs baseball game in a suit and tie and left in the middle of a double header for my interview,”’ Wemesfelder said. “I did my interview and then I returned to the game.”
He also remembers the call that came into his home at about 10 p.m. that same night.
“Dr. Luke LaPorta called my home and asked to speak with the director of Parks and Rec,” he said, “and the rest is history.”
LaPorta was the director of a parks commission that served the town in the late 1960s. In 1970, then-Supervisor Lou Nicoletti directed the commission to hire a director to formulate a recreation program for the town. Wemesfelder, the commission decided, was the man for the job, and he’s lived up to the task. Since his appointment, Salina has added a pool in each of its four wards, 15 playground sites and nearly 200 acres of park land.
Wemesfelder is set to retire July 26. That means he’ll have completed 43 years as the director town of Salina’s parks and recreation department — possibly longer than any other commissioner in the state and perhaps the country.
But Wemesfelder’s career in parks and rec dates back even farther than his hire in Salina in 1970. It started when he was a senior in high school monitoring an adult basketball program in a Rochester suburb and continued with a three-year stint as playground director for the town of Clay. Wemesfelder was also a classroom teacher, tennis and soccer coach for the Liverpool Central School District for 33 years.