JJ Gates has two perspectives on local parks — as a long-time caretaker of them and as a parent whose family enjoys those spaces, too.
Gates is the assistant director of parks and golf for the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department, where he’s worked for 28 years — and “anywhere with a playground” is where his family enjoys their time, given Gates and his wife, Julie, have a 7-year-old son, Hudson, as well as foster sons Jessie, 18, and Jakeil, 16.
Gates was speaking of fostering children when he said he enjoys seeing “the appreciation from the kids. They’re wanting support and love” and normal lives, but he agreed the same applies to his approach in caring for the parks that all children can use.
He said he tries to maintain the parks as if his son would be the one playing on equipment.
Gates enjoyed playing baseball and basketball growing up, and while he started college at the University of Missouri in the business school after graduating from Helias High School in 1987, he switched to a degree in parks, recreation and tourism.
He thought he would be a recreation program manager, someone who organizes leagues for children and adults, but maintenance “kind of fit my personality,” he said.
After graduating from MU in May 1992, Gates took a part-time job with the Jefferson City Parks Department’s “ball-field crew” and was promoted to a parks supervisor in July 1993.
He was later promoted in 1999 to be a parks and forestry division director.
Gates said he enjoys working behind the scenes supporting staff and the public’s needs.
He also enjoys ribbon-cuttings and the public’s excitement about new park features — some of which, such as disc golf and mountain biking, the public has come to him with ideas about.
Gates gets notice of service issues in the city’s parks, too, and he said addressing public concerns is something he was not really taught in school.
“Sometimes, when the public’s upset, you have to play judge” and weigh staff’s performance versus the expectations of the public, he said.
“Kind of like kids — you can’t really have a favorite part,” Gates said of his career — but replacing playgrounds and the construction of The Linc wellness center stand out for him.
At home, he enjoys tinkering, doing landscaping and mowing the yard — mowing can be his personal time sometimes, listening to music through his headphones as he cuts the grass.
He’s also taken up golf and once got a hole-in-one at Redfield Golf Course in Eugene. “I’m a pretty average golfer that got lucky,” he said.
He enjoys the variety of work JC Parks has provided him for nearly 30 years.
“It’s not doing the same thing every day, all day,” he said. “If they’ll still have me, I’ll stick around.”