'Honored to have served this community': Parks and Rec visionary retires after 4 decades of successes

·6 min read

Jul. 29—DICKINSON — A thriving Parks and Recreation can be the most tangible reflection of the quality of life in a community. For more than 40 years, James Kramer has been actively involved in maintaining a mission of providing area residents with the very best services possible and his commitment to that goal has shaped the community he calls home.

Four decades removed from his first part-time job at Parks and Rec, Kramer has announced that he will be moving into retirement and ushering in an end to an era that witnessed the most tremendous growth and improvement in Parks and Rec history.

"I remember moving here very well. It was the summer before I started first grade at Jefferson Elementary. I went through all phases of school here... Elementary, Junior High, High School and even Dickinson State University," Kramer said. "I was working through high school and I took every part-time job available with Parks and Recreation. I started when I was 13 years old."

Kramer added with a smile, "So I guess you can say I've been doing it for a long time."

Not just the brainchild behind many of the successful park projects over the years, Kramer is a man who many employees, past and present, say genuinely cared about the happiness of his staff.

"Working for James was one of the most rewarding type of jobs. He made you feel appreciated and it's because of him that I have the leadership style that I have today," Joy Schoch, Publisher of The Dickinson Press and former Dickinson Parks and Recreation employee, said. "Walking facility grounds at West River Community Center, passersby would often stop to catch a chat with James. He has certainly left an indelible mark on this community, even for those who have never met him and I'm honestly sad to see him go."

Under Kramer's leadership, Dickinson Parks and Recreation began the long and arduous process of proposing, finalizing and ultimately completing the West River Community Center, the single greatest achievement in Kramer's tenure according to him.

"It was the culmination of many years' work, and today is a groundbreaking facility that's set an example the whole region wants to emulate," he said. "The whole process was difficult and not always a success. This project failed six times before it was successful, but during that process I was a year into my position as Director. I'm probably most proud of what it has become for this community."

Induction into the The North Dakota Parks and Recreation Association Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed in the state for industry leaders. Twenty-five individuals have been inducted since 1994, and Kramer was recognized and so honored in 2019 when selected by a board of his peers.

"I would say, outside of all of the things within the community that I have been a part of, professionally it's pretty humbling when a group of your peers gives this honor. It's the pinnacle of my career."

Among the many organizations Kramer has participated in include the North Dakota Babe Ruth Baseball, American Legion Baseball, United States Tennis Association, Dickinson Optimist Club, Dickinson State University Booster Club, National Recreation and Park Association, NRPA Midwest Regional Council, and American Parks and Recreation Society.

Kramer was recognized outside his industry when he was appointed to former Governor Jack Dalrymple's Task Force on Property Tax Reform. There he worked diligently to ensure park districts were treated fairly in the levy consolidation process.

Kramer noted that, "it takes a village to run a successful parks and recreation," saying that while he is grateful for the opportunity to be in his position during some of the most important moments in the history of the organization, he recognizes that the efforts have not been solely his.

No successful career comes without the support structure at home and at work. Kramer was not shy about spreading his many thanks to those who have contributed to his personal and professional successes, as well as to those who have mentored and guided him over the many years.

"First and foremost, my immediate family. My parents pointed me in the right direction early and I thank them for that. My wife and children understand that working in this profession it isn't your typical 9-5 job, lots of evening and weekend stuff so there were many late nights and missed events. But their support and love is really important in this career."

Beyond his family, Kramer extended a thank you to many others who had played vital roles in his career.

"I want to say that I am truly thankful for the awesome co-workers I have here, we are really a work family that has been very important in the success of the department," Kramer said. "To both previous executive directors, I am very grateful. Mike Lefor was president of the Park Board for a long time and he was very influential in my career. The list goes on and on. Thank you to everyone."

Parks and Recreation oversees much of Dickinson's top attractions, including maintaining its parks and public spaces, in addition to the community center. All of this works towards the goal of providing a high quality of life to the citizens of Dickinson was always at the forefront for Kramer.

"We're a driver of the quality of life issues that people need. There are cities that have higher populations than us, that see very limited opportunities to enjoy activities and facilities like we do in Dickinson," Kramer said. "Our facilities have been used to court prospective employees for many businesses, and often it's the West River Community Center that they bring them to.

Kramer also notes that the community center has made the existing community healthier than it was.

"We have thousands of members, many who are actively participating in wellness activities that probably weren't available in years past," Kramer said. "We're a healthier community, as well as an economically sound community."

Despite the successes in bringing many of his personal goals to fruition for Parks and Recreation, at the end of the day Kramer said the key to his department's success is to never forget that the community comes first.

"You need to be as public-minded as possible. Everyone has their own thoughts or ideas of what people want, but until you ask the people of the community who are actually going to pay for it...that's extremely important," he said. "We pride ourselves on being very transparent and very public-orientated. People hold us accountable and we don't let them down."

Looking ahead, Kramer said that he is not done working and will look for opportunities to continue to help shape and mold the community of Dickinson moving forward.

"There comes a time in a career when you have to sit back and look for the next challenge. Working here since I was 13, I'm ready for something else," Kramer said. "Thank you to Dickinson for the fantastic opportunity. I'm honored to have served this community."