For 16 years, the City of Marathon has had Jimmy Schmidt as director of Parks and Recreation. In fact, he was the city’s first park employee. He’s done the job with dedication, joy and a lot of humor.
“I directed myself for years. There were a lot of problems. I’m hard to control,” he said grinning, and leaning back in his office chair in the little yellow building squeezed between the Marathon Community Park’s pavilion and the tennis courts.
Under Schmidt’s guidance, the city’s parks and recreation program has grown to four full-time employees, four part-time employees, two maintenance guys, and — during camp season — an additional seven counselors and a bus driver. The department oversees the flagship, Marathon Community Park, but also Jessie Hobbs, Rotary, Oceanfront, and Sunset parks and Sombrero and Coco Plum beaches.
At one point in his life, Schmidt was the director of a Boys and Girls Club in Maryland. And then he was a union carpenter foreman for 18 years in New York City. When his wife, Patti, was hired in 2001 to do information technology for the National Weather Service in Key West, he of course came along too. Now, she’s retired and living in Venice, and Schmidt is set to join her in a few weeks. In the meantime, he’s training his replacement, Paul Davis, the former football coach for Marathon High School.
A little more about Marathon’s first director of parks and recreation:
What did the park look like when you were hired? Well, it was all done, the pavilion and everything was already here. But when I walked into the office, my desk was still in a box and the computer was on the floor.
What’s something the public would be surprised to learn about your job? How much work is involved in running these programs. We have to budget them to break even, handle the registration, order the equipment and supplies, advertise the programs, run them, clean up afterwards and report back to the council.
Is there a little-known secret about the camps offered to kids during the summer months and school breaks? I don’t turn anyone away. I asked the council once about scholarships and they approved it, and I never asked again.
What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? In the beginning, it was finding and retaining employees. Now, it’s maintaining the facilities. After the hurricane, that just became such a daunting task.
What’s the most rewarding aspect? I love seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces after a successful program. My wife and I don’t have kids. But sometimes I feel like I have 90! (The summer camp has between 30 and 60 children every week.) I get to hang out with them all day and then send them home! And, I’m a softie, too. It took me a while to figure out that these two particular boys were getting in “trouble” on purpose, so they could come hang out with me in the air-conditioned office.
What’s something that most people don’t know about you? I’m one lazy so-and-so. At work, I’m not. But at home …
What’s your guilty pleasure? Ice cream. Never met a flavor I didn’t like.
One thing you can’t do without? Coffee in the morning. And Carlos Solis.
What’s on your bucket list? I don’t have a bucket list.
What are you secretly good at? History. I love history. Most recently, I’ve been studying the Civil War. But I get really interested in certain aspects. I started researching the origins of Anglo Saxon and learned a ton about Scotland, the Tudor family and all that good stuff. I’ll have 20 windows open on my computer.
What are you going to miss about the Keys? I’m going to miss the people in Marathon. I’m going to miss the weather.
Finish these sentences …
There are two types of people in this world … givers and takers. I’m a giver.
If I was invisible for a day … I would play Robin Hood.
The best present I ever received … was my Honorary Conch certificate. I like that, it was a big thing for me. (Editor’s note: And now he’s leaving??!!)