Leading Willmar Parks and Rec into the future: Rob Baumgarn is ready
WILLMAR -- Even before he was hired as the director of Willmar's newly formed Parks and Recreation Department, Rob Baumgarn literally knew the city's recreation facilities and programming inside and out.
WILLMAR - Even before he was hired as the director of Willmar's newly formed Parks and Recreation Department, Rob Baumgarn literally knew the city's recreation facilities and programming inside and out.
A Montevideo native who attended Ridgewater College and the University of Minnesota Crookston, graduating with a recreation degree, Baumgarn worked for Willmar Community Education and Recreation for 17 years. He started in aquatics and facilities, eventually adding youth recreation to his duties. He also has worked with adult recreation, Special Olympics and the last three years has been the Civic Center manager.
"Everything under the recreation umbrella I've done," Baumgarn said.
When Willmar Community Education and Recreation was dissolved between the city and Willmar Public Schools this year, Baumgarn said applying for the recreation director position with the city was a natural progression for him. It was a high school coach, Doug Spray, who was also the recreation director in Montevideo, who first introduced Baumgarn to the career he now has.
"I knew I always wanted to be in some sports-related field," Baumgarn said.
Willmar Community Education and Recreation officially split in September after the school and city were unable to come to a new agreement.
"Everything that is educational, those will stay with the schools. Everything recreation-based will go to the city," Baumgarn said.
The Willmar City Council approved Baumgarn's hiring as its recreation director in August.
"The priority is to provide programming for recreation to special needs to seniors. Just to get people more active," Baumgarn said. "We need to get adults more active."
Nov. 1 is an important day for the city's Recreation Department as it will mark the real transition between being part of Willmar Community Education and Recreation to an independent organization.
"It is not a thought anymore. It has become a realization," Baumgarn said.
Housed in the Willmar Civic Center, the Willmar Parks and Recreation Department will have its own staff, including two new program coordinators.
"They are to be my left and right persons," Baumgarn said. "They have to be an open door for a lot of this stuff."
It has helped that Baumgarn has many of the contacts and relationships already in place to keep the recreation programs going and to start up new opportunities.
"It has been an easy transition for me to reach them," Baumgarn said. "We just run with it."
As Baumgarn and his team build the department, they also want to increase the number of people who use the Recreation Department and come to Willmar.
"We want to get more teams in town," Baumgarn said. "Do what we can to bring people in town."
One opportunity that could help make that possible is the local option sales tax. Most of the funds raised would be used for recreation. Projects include a recreation center, improvements at Robbins Island and Swansson Field, turf sports fields and money for the community center.
"It is going to be huge for recreation," Baumgarn said. "It opens up a wide range of things we can do."
Baumgarn said facilities and amenities like the sales tax projects and Willmar's park system can be important for people moving to the area.
"It draws people to the town," Baumgarn said. "These are really big players."
Regardless of what happens with the sales tax, Baumgarn said the Community Center will remain a priority. Britta Diem was recently hired as the Community Center manager and will work with Baumgarn to improve the center and its offerings.
"That is something we will constantly be working on," Baumgarn said, adding the building needs major TLC.
The recreation staff will look at ways to bring all ages to the center and to have it available for all.
"It is a community center. That is what it is for, the community," Baumgarn said.
The goal of everything Baumgarn and his staff are doing at Willmar Parks and Recreation is to offer the city's residents a successful and well-run department.
"We are working hard to make sure we are doing everything we can to make it right," Baumgarn said. "We want to make sure we are providing quality programming."