Visitors to Columbus, Indiana’s Donner Aquatics Center enjoy pristine pools, comprehensive swimming lessons and the attention of well-trained staff and lifeguards, all thanks to Aquatics Manager Jim Lemke. The 46-year-old father of three is a dedicated member of NRPA and has been with the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department for 11 years. These days, he’s an active and engaged member, often taking to Twitter to highlight the benefits of aquatics safety as well as all the fun that can be had when we get out and enjoy the park and recreation facilities our communities have to offer.
Lemke came to his career somewhat circuitously, ending up in the industry after years of volunteering his talents to area sports leagues. “My oldest son, who was 4 at the time, was taking ‘intro to hockey’ lessons,” he explains. “I became a volunteer coach. I also taught swim lessons and was a baseball coach and a soccer coach. At some point, I realized, ‘Wait, I’m spending an awful lot of time in parks and recreation,’” Lemke says, laughing.
“There was an assistant manager position open at the ice rink, and they asked me if I wanted to do it. I said sure, and [two years later] when the aquatics position opened up, I said I really want to go over there, so they moved me,” he continues. That was in 2005, and shortly thereafter Lemke participated in NRPA’s AFO training course. “Indiana state health code requires either an AFO or CPO at their facilities, so it was a job prerequisite that I take the course,” Lemke says. “[Being AFO certified] gives me more confidence that our facility is being maintained to proper aquatic standards and that our water is healthy and safe for our patrons. Also, [it provides assurance] that our lifeguards and staff are well-trained.”
Lemke clearly takes pride in his professional role and appreciates the access to educational opportunities and information about his field that NRPA membership provides. “I really enjoy being able to communicate with other professionals in the recreation field,” Lemke says.
“I can read articles in Parks & Recreation Magazine or follow online to see what other professionals are doing as well as other park departments. Attending Congress every year, going to educational sessions, and seeing what’s trending in parks and recreation makes me feel more confident we’re offering the best programs and facilities to benefit our community.”
When asked to single out the best aspect of being a recreation professional, Lemke can’t decide. “Everything is my favorite,” he says.
“I love educating the community and my staff, being involved in the community and seeing people enjoy our facilities, whether it be aquatics, baseball, soccer — I love watching those other programs and watching people have a good time while being healthy and safe.”
— Samantha Bartram, Associate Editor of Parks & Recreation Magazine