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VIProfile: Chris Kummer

By Sadie Fowler

No two days are the same for Chris Kummer, an incredibly busy yet compassionate man who leads the efforts of the Warren County Parks and Recreation Department. He joined the department in 2000 and has served as its executive director since 2008. “I love doing what I do now,” he said.

“Every day is a little bit different. We see the whole gamut here. But whatever the challenges are for the day, I know I’m going to try to enhance the quality of life for those I serve. That’s my goal.”

Kummer originally wanted to be a police officer, although his career desires shifted following an internship in which he found opportunity within parks and recreation department. He was actually the Bowling Green Police Department’s first teleserve cadet and also a member of its Explorers program, a role he fulfilled in honor of his late best friend Joe who died as a result of cancer and shared a passion for police work.

Kummer’s passion for parks and recreations-type work likely results from his family roots. His father was a professor at WKU who taught the subject. In fact, he actually retired the day Kummer graduated with his degree in parks and recreation.

The Warren County Parks and Recs has 41 different park locations, and Kummer’s goal at the end of the day is to provide a piece of oasis in everyday life for the many citizens who benefit
from those parks.

“Our locations are a place where people can come and get away from life for a bit,” he said. “People who once enjoyed the parks as kids now bring their kids here, and that’s very gratifying … Whether it’s providing green space where folks can come read a book, providing leagues for them to play in, trails to run on, a gym …

Whatever the need is for a particular person we try to provide it.” Of course, Kummer’s post as director comes with many challenges; one of them is meeting needs within the confinements of his budget (although he is quick to applaud the great relationships his department has with other local and county departments).

“All of our county departments work really well together and that’s one reason we’re so successful here,” he said. “There are very few municipalities where you see that happen.”

Finding, training and retaining the right employees can be tough at times. “We can train people to operate the facility, but the challenge is doing that within the budget we have,” he said. “But I like the challenge. You never know what each day will entail. Today, we just had two HVAC units go out and we have games tonight. Again, that’s just part of the challenge and I like that part of my job.”

Another challenge Kummer faces daily is dealing with the many personalities of those he serves, including parents. He also says he seen it all — bad things that happen at the parks — and it’s his job to deal with any disciplinary action required to anyone abusing the parks.

“All it takes is one bad thing to happen and it can throw your whole day off. We see it all, everything from lewd behavior, to drugs, to dealing with sexual predators. We now, though, have a full-time officer through the Sheriff’s Department, Wayne Mayfield, so having him as been a huge weight lifted off my shoulders.”

He’s seen many challenging days over the years, but has faced them all with determination. He recalled some of the worst days being the flood in 2010 where the department lost $3 million, and a fire that occurred in 2013 that destroyed about a half million in equipment.

“Those were some really hard days,” he said. “To have recovered from the flood and then have to deal with that fire was hard. But the reality is if you’re in this type of work stuff like that is going to happen. What matters most is how you deal with things. I have always tried to be graceful and patient. We’ve gone through things but have always come out stronger.”

Kummer is on call 24/7 and loves it, although finding balance can at times be hard. He’s thankful to a great family and his loving wife Lauren for helping him do that. Lauren, a longtime employee of the school system, provides great support. Together, they enjoy traveling when they can, working outside, and he also enjoys running. Kummer’s sister resides in New York, and they love visiting her there as often as possible.

A happy childhood with great parents who taught him the value of respecting others are at the root of Kummer’s personality that has helped him flourish. His mother was the director of Kids on the Block for many years. Kummer says as a child, he learned to be self-disciplined, compassionate and respectful.

“I think in this job you have to be compassionate,” he said. “You have to be able to accept criticism, to go out of your comfort zone. I always want to be on the edge of trying to find a better way to do something. I’m always trying to improve myself, through things like education, training and certifications. I have a list of things I want to do and achieve and I don’t ever want to be that person who gets comfortable and is no longer marketable, or who is missing the needs of the community. I am constantly challenging myself and that’s what makes this fun.”

Looking ahead, there are lots of great things happening at the Warren County Parks and Rec Department. A new gym, at 57,000 square feet, came out under budget and Kummer calls it “a dream come true.”

Another popular activity his department has been involved with, via partnership with the Warren County InLine Hockey League, SKyPAC, and SoKY Marketplace, is the ice skating rink in which nearly 16,000 citizens used last year.

“Our main goal is to continue as we are, maintain what we have, and as funding allows make a new vision and strategic plan for the next 30 years. We want to make sure the package we put together is what the citizens want.”

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