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Longtime Salina parks and rec director retires

Salina Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jim Wemesfelder is set to retire after more than four decades in the position.

Salina Parks and Recreation Commissioner Jim Wemesfelder is set to retire after more than four decades in the position. Photo by Sarah Hall.

— The parks department has come a long way since Wemesfelder took office — for example, there’s actually an office now.

“When I started, I had no office and no budget, no staff,” he said. “I shared a desk with the dog catcher in supervisor’s office. I had one drawer and the dog catcher had the other.”

Clearly, Wemesfelder, who led seven consecutive LHS tennis teams to the championships, had his work cut out for him. So he took his experience with the town of Clay and built upon that.

“I fashioned a program for the town of Salina,” he said. “I submitted a budget to the town board. They graciously funded it and have done so for 43 years.”

In three years, the town had built 15 playgrounds and two pools. Two more were added as years went on, and Salina was able to build one of the most comprehensive aquatics programs in the area.

The pools and aquatic program stand out as one of Wemesfelder’s prouder memories.

“Every youngster in town of Salina who wanted to learn how to swim was given that opportunity regardless of financial background. Any child who wanted to learn was offered that opportunity in the town of Salina,” he said. “Last year, we taught 687 kids. So you take 600 kids times 40 years, I’m no mathematician, but that’s thousands of kids that might otherwise be a headline in the paper.”

Wemesfelder is also especially proud of Sehr Park in Lyncourt, which was built with no local tax dollars.

“For years, the feds would not allow municipalities to use fed money as a match to get fed money,” he said. “The first year they relaxed that requirement, we pounced on it.”

The town used federal revenue sharing as our 50 percent match and received a like amount through the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation. That money was used to develop a 10-acre park near the Alvord House in Lyncourt on land originally owned by Syracuse China.

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