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Johnson County, Kansas, recently lost a champion of green space and recreation activities who was instrumental in improving quality of life in the county. Johnson County Park and Recreation District (JCPRD) employees have lost a friend.
Former JCPRD Executive Director Gary L. Haller passed away in the early hours of Thursday, December 10, 2020. He had retired from JCPRD in March 2001 after 27 years with the agency, but Haller had remained in touch with many current and former employees.
“Many of you, like me, had the privilege of working with him and seeing his true genius that left lasting impacts on JCPRD and Johnson County, as well as beyond those boundaries,” JCPRD Administration Manager Jo Ann Courtney wrote in an email to staff. “He will not be forgotten, and the Gary L. Haller Trail on the Mill Creek Streamway Park will tell a part of his story to generations to come.”
In June 2002, the 17 miles of the trail she mentions was renamed in honor of Haller. Interpretive signs featuring a portrait of the former director and information about his impact in the field are located near all eight access points to the trail.
“So many of us have been fortunate to have Gary as a friend and mentor,” adds current JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart. “Gary was the father of the streamway park system. If you haven’t already, I hope sometime you will have an opportunity to visit the streamway and stop to read the signage about him.”
“It is so true that we are blessed to have had Gary in our lives,” says former Executive Director Jill Geller, who left JCPRD in September 2019 after more than five years as executive director and 36 years with JCPRD in various capacities. “[Gary] did not just lead an organization — he created a family. I wish we could be together to celebrate his amazing life, but we are for sure together in spirit.”
“Few men, or women for that matter, shaped a work team, a community and even a national movement in parks and recreation more than our beloved ‘gentle bear,’ Gary,” says Michael Meadors, who served as JCPRD’s executive director from 2001 to 2013, and has a total of 27 years with the agency. “I know I am a better person having shared many life experiences with such a wonderful man!”
“He was a grizzly bear with a sincere heart of gold,” adds former JCPRD Board Member Vickie Truitt. “I treasure my memories of working with him. We will miss him so much!”
As a Colby, Kansas, native, Haller came to JCPRD in August 1974 after 15 years with the state of Kansas, where he served as assistant director in charge of state outdoor recreation planning and administration of the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and did recreation planning for the Kansas Park and Resource Authority. Under Haller’s leadership, JCPRD grew from fewer than 50 employees to 165 employees and from fewer than 1,800 acres to approximately 6,100 acres of parkland; achieved national recognition as the 1995 recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal Award; and in 1999, became the 22nd agency in the nation to become nationally accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies. Haller also served in numerous professional leadership roles throughout the field of parks and recreation, including as a member of the NRPA board of trustees, and has received many individual professional awards and recognitions, including the NRPA Distinguished Professional Award.
David Markham is Communications Specialist for Johnson County Park and Recreation District ().