When Aaron Jenson walked into Waupaca’s Recreation Center Wednesday, April 17, he did so as the city’s new parks and recreation director.
The Common Council’s vote to offer the position to him was unanimous. The appointment was effective immediately.
The vote took place during a special meeting of the council, held Tuesday, April 16, prior to the council’s regular monthly meeting.
The council met in closed session to discuss the position before reconvening in open session and voting.
Following the vote, Jenson said, “I want to say ‘thank you’ to the hiring board and to everyone in the city I worked with the last two years. I’m looking forward to working here a long time. I thank Russ (Montgomery). He’s been super supportive. It says a lot about the person he is.”
Montgomery, the city’s former parks superintendent, was the acting parks and recreation director and did apply for the position. He is now the city’s new facilities superintendent.
He said, “I’m excited for him. He’s got the demeanor to work well with the community, all the various groups and different agendas. He’s going to excel in that position. He’s very dedicated. You can’t ask for more than that.”
Montgomery said he watched Jenson grow up in the city’s recreation program, from the days when he played flag football to when he became part of the seasonal parks crew and then two years ago, the city’s recreation program supervisor.
City Administrator Henry Veleker said Jenson “has a lot of capabalities and has proven himself. He is a hard worker. The community has embraced him.”
Jenson was one of 26 people who applied for the parks and recreation director position.
The position had been vacant for almost three years following the resignation of Jim Ash.
Veleker explained the city’s processs for filling the vacancy.
“We interviewed ten of them (the applicants) in the first round. Then, we whittled it down to four, of which Aaron was one. The pool of candidates was excellent,” he said.
The other three finalists were from Minnesota, Illinois and Florida.
The interviewing panel was made up of Veleker, Mayor Brian Smith, Ald. Eric Olson, Parks and Recreation Board Member Dana Gustke and Marty Kosobucki, the city of De Pere’s parks and recreation director.
“He was real helpful,” Veleker said of Kosobucki’s input.
Veleker said Jenson was the city’s top candidate.
“He knows the community. He knows the department. He’ll be successful,” Veleker said.
Jenson, 24, is a Waupaca native and 2007 graduate of Waupaca High School.
In 2011, he graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse with a bachelor’s degree in recreation management.
He served a 16-week internship with the city of Waupaca before becoming the full-time recreation program supervisor.
Becoming the director of the department was a natural progression for him.
“I went into recreation management. It was my career choice,” Jenson said. “Having worked here the last two years – the amount of support the department gets from volunteers, groups, businesses makes it a very attractive job for anyone looking to be a director of parks and recreation.”
He also acknowledged the facilities and parks the city has is impressive for a community this size, he said.
“It makes it easier to be successful in the position,” Jenson said.
Leadership training, specific to parks and recreation, will be provided for him. He will also have a mentor.
Veleker said the hiring panel recognized Jenson is inexperienced in some areas and wants to give him resources to be effective.
As a result, Jenson’s probation period will be for nine months instead of six.
His annual salary will be $54,800. During the probationary period, his salary will be at 90 percent of that figure, Veleker said.
Jenson is glad the city decided to include training and a mentor as part of his probationary period.
“Any time you can further yourself through further education is always a good thing,” he said.
During Jenson’s probationary period, the city plans to increase hours for the two part-time office staff in the recreation center.
Veleker said the council will have to discuss whether it can go nine months without filling the now vacant recreation program supervisor position.
Jenson’s goal is to find a summer intern to help with programming.
While Jenson has a new role in the department, he said, “I’ll still have my hands in recreation programming.”
As director, his goals will include efficiency and planning.
The department has a five-year plan. He wants to get the Parks and Recreation Board more engaged in planning for the future.
Jenson stressed the department’s staff has been great to work with during the transition.
“I think they’re excited. They’re people who really care about the work they do,” he said.
He talked about Montomgery in particular.
“Russ has been incredibly supportive during this whole transition period. There’s a lot of people who wouldn’t have handled it with class like he did,” Jenson said. “I’m looking forward to working with him in the years ahead. He’s been great to say the least.”
His family, city department heads, coaches and community leaders are among those Jenson looks to as role models.
“I’ve tried to model myself after a lot of great people I grew up with in this community,” he said. “I pick out people I respect who I would like to be seen as and I do what I need to do to be like that.”
Jenson said, “There’s no way I’d be in this position without them.”
He received community support the past two years and said, “You can get a lot done with people like that.”
Jenson said his fiance, Jessie McAllister, has also been very supportive.
The high school sweethearts will be married on Oct. 5.
McAllister is currently a student at the Professional School of Psychology in Chicago.
She will graduate in August with a master’s degree in clinical counseling.
The couple enjoys running with their dog Copper.
Jenson likes to hunt and fish in the fall and go to high school sporting events.
He is coaching the 14-year-old Babe Ruth team, helps with basketball when he can and, with Jay Krcmar, is running a speed and agility program two mornings a week at WHS.
Jenson is a 2012 graduate of Leadership Waupaca County and recently passed his certified parks and recreation professional exam through the National Recreation and Parks Association.
Involvement in such associations, both at the local and national level, is important to him.
Jenson was 16 years old when he began working on the city of Waupaca’s parks crew.
He did so five summers and worked in the Parks and Recreation Department in the city of La Crosse, helping with special events.
For two years, he was Waupaca’s recreation program supervisor.
Jenson is excited to begin his new role in the city and to work with the parks and recreation staff and the community.
“Now, I’m here,” he said. “It’s funny. When you’re a kid working for parks and rec, you don’t think about the future. It’s interesting how it all worked out.”