Jackie Simpson moved her last box of awards from her facility manager office at Glenwood Recreation Center yesterday, completing her final day in a 33-year-long career with the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department.
"We've come a long way with our programs," said Simpson, a 63-year-old Glenwood resident. "At the time I started, a recreation center was just for recreation; now we do the arts as well. The center's in a good place, but I'm hoping the person who comes after me will take this to a new level."
Simpson said she became a "recreation rat" when she was 10 years old, living next to a center in Alton Park. She participated in all the sports and thrived under the attention of the center's craft teacher. She learned everything from painting and paper mache to ceramics. In 1961 the Chattanooga Recreation Department awarded her a spot in the Recreation Hall of Fame for her enthusiasm and ability to improvise with what she had to make projects creative and fun.
"That's how I was raised, don't put things off and just use what you got," Simpson said. "It might not be the best, but it'll be alright."
After finishing school, Simpson didn't lose her love for recreation centers. She joined the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department as an employee in 1978. For several years, Simpson rotated through the different city recreations centers. She first worked at the Glenwood Center as a recreation specialist in the early 1980s and returned by the early 1990s as the facilities manager.
"The program just needed to be structured, so it wasn't just everyone in at the same time," said Simpson, who split the day up into time slots for different age groups and programmed accordingly. "I feel that if I'm dealing with younger ones, the older ones shouldn't be here unless they are volunteering to help."
Soon after getting the center working smoothly with a regular schedule, Simpson created a reading program. After years of working with companies like Troll Book and organizations like United Way, Simpson was able to open a reading center at Glenwood. Students now visit Glenwood to read for fun and to finish books required on their school reading list.
Once her reading center was established, Simpson started focusing on after-school tutoring sessions for students. She recruited teachers and volunteers to help with the different subjects, especially math. Glenwood Center now offers tutoring Monday-Thursday from 3 to 5:30 p.m. and the tutors work with up to 60 students a day.
"Jackie is probably one of our most dedicated employees," said Larry Zehnder, administrator for the Chattanooga Parks and Recreation Department. "She's done a great job and has more than 30 years of contributions to the city that have really helped keep our youth on the straight and narrow. As she indicated to me, she'll continue to help out as a volunteer, so we are not really losing an employee, we are gaining a volunteer."
Glenwood Recreation Center's Summer Camp Program begins June 6 and costs $75 every two weeks for children to participate Monday-Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. The program is open to youth ages 6 to 12, with space for up to 50 participants.