Woodruff ready to play
Kim Woodruff sits in his office at Sandpoint City Hall. The longtime Parks and Recreation director is retiring after almost 36 years with the city.
(Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER)
Sandpoint Parks and Recreation Director Kim Woodruff shows off the sitting area at the end of jetty in the recently-renovated Windbag Park in this 2012. This section of the project was made possible by a donation from the Chris and Genevive Campbell family.
Gina and Kim Woodruff make their way around Travers Park as they take part in the 2017 annual Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day. The event, which is sponsored by Sandpoint Parks & Recreation and the Litehouse YMCA, raises donations and food for the Bonner Community Food Bank.
Longtime participants of the race no doubt know who this is, as local Kim Woodruff has been wearing a shark fin for the Long Bridge Swim for years.
In this September 1988 photograph, then-Recreation Director Kim Woodruff is pictured replacing the old city logo on a city vehicle with a new-look city logo, pictured on the right.
Kim Woodruff sits with a decoy coyote, used at City Beach in an attempt to scare the geese, and one of the practice dummies for the city's lifeguarding program. The longtime Parks and Recreation director is retiring after almost 36 years with the city.
Staff Writer | January 30, 2022 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — Kim Woodruff is going pro.
After what he says has been almost 36 years of playing, it's time to retire at the end of the month as the city's longtime Parks and Recreation director, and make play his profession.
"I haven't worked since college, you know, it's been awesome," he said jokingly. "Now I gotta retire from not working and play harder. I've been training for the last 35 years for this day."
Woodruff began his tenure with the city almost 36 years ago, arriving as an intern from the University of Idaho with a fresh degree in recreation management. A month after he arrived, then-director Cheryl Klein left to go to school and the former pre-dental major applied for the job.
"I ended up interning for myself so I gave myself high marks," joked Woodruff.
Woodruff's humor and his spirit will be missed at the city, said Sandpoint City Administrator Jennifer Stapleton. Those qualities have helped ground the city and its crew.
"There's all the politics and we've lived through a couple of really difficult years here, as a community, as the city government, as an organization," Stapleton said. "And Kim brings a lot of levity in terms of remembering that there's got to be a balance in life. You have to celebrate, you have to have fun."
Parks and recreation wasn't Woodruff's first career goal. That was dentistry — and he enrolled at the University of Idaho as a pre-dentistry major. But after realizing dentistry wasn't his thing, Woodruff decided to try agriculture engineering as a major. While he did OK on grades, Woodruff said he realized that despite a farming background from growing up in southern Idaho, that wasn't a fit either. He decided to take some time off, to reflect on what would really make him happy. It was then that a friend suggested he consider recreation as a career.
It was, Woodruff said, the perfect fit. He realized he could get paid to play — and to help others play as well.
"At the end of the day I want to do something that would bring me joy, and others joy. And this was a perfect fit," he added.
Early personality tests showed that he was "perfectly charted" to be a Parks and Recreation person.
"I always thought, 'Wow, how come not everybody thinks like I do. And I finally realized that I am different, wired differently — in a good way again. And that's fine.
"That's why it really never has been a job for me. It's not. It's a cause and I've been so blessed with the community and the people here."
It's a community that has helped him and his wife raise their three children and where he is lucky enough to be able to watch his grandchildren grow. It's a community where he and his family have thrived, and where they are able to live a great life, Woodruff said.
"I got married, moved up here, got a job and went from a college hippie dude to a person with a job but still a hippie dude," he said before chuckling.
It's a community that despite recent political divisiveness where those views don't matter, where people get along and enjoy hanging out because the people care about each other, he said, turning serious.
"You realize that it's people," Woodruff added. "We sometimes get so caught up on the things that don't [matter] instead of just looking at people in their hearts.
While his interests lie in sailing, tennis, biking and similar sports, Woodruff said others enjoy sports such as shooting and marksmanship. Because the sport is one that is favorite for many, Woodruff said he's made it a priority to provide that opportunity to locals sportsman.
It also is why he quickly got on board with an effort by local skateboarders to create a skatepark — one of his first efforts as Parks and Recreation director in 2005 when the two departments were merged.
"I think everybody has different buttons to push about what makes them happy and where they want to put their time," Woodruff said. "And I just try to provide as many of those different opportunities as we can."
Despite his decades with the city, and the addition of new parks and improved facilities — such as the addition of the Windbag Marina and the renovations to Memorial Field — the goal of the department has remained constant — to identify what makes people happy in their free time and create the opportunities and places for them to do so
"Identifying [that] has been my mantra since the day I walked into the door is at least recognize your free time, and then act accordingly," Woodruff said. "I'm not here to judge anybody. I'm here to provide opportunities through parks, or skills through classes or other things that people want to do. So they can decide what brings them happiness."
He said he's been blessed to work with many people — from former Parks director Maurice Dunn to city staff and officials to the many volunteers over the years — all of whom helped create a robust parks system and create a diverse range of programs for area residents.
He points to the lifeguards and notes the city's program is the only USLA-certified program in the Northwest. That came through the dedication and determination of volunteers and a council determined to find a way — and willing to offer higher wages — to ensure the program's survival.
It is people like that, the interactions with everyone from his staff to the public to the officials he's worked with over the years. It is the "little kids" — now grown adults with jobs and families. It is "his guys" that he's worked with over the years.
"It's just the people … and every day, we have an opportunity to [make them happy]," said Woodruff. "To be able to smile and bring somebody's joy level up and then that's going to be contagious to other people, just like a smile.
"If you smile at somebody, they smile back. So, you know, so those are the things that we can just choose to do that can bring happiness, you know, on a daily basis. So there's the things and the structures and the Memorials and, and the parks and things like that. Yeah, those are awesome. But it's all a mechanism and a tool to bring quality of life and happiness."
Quality of life is important to those residents and to be able to give them a place to go hard, work hard and go to sleep tired and happy has made work seem more like play.
"If I was to die tomorrow, it's been an awesome run and I be OK with that, you know," Woodruff added. "Because every day is truly an opportunity and a gift.
Woodruff said his professional life has been planning for the future, and with the new Parks and Recreation master plan, the city is in great shape.
The parks system will continue to grow as will the programming available to area residents, with the number of opportunities continuing to grow and expand as residents find new ways to play and spend their leisure time. He loves that the city — and those who teach the many and diverse programs and life sports — are able to offer the chance to learn basic skills for life sports, activities that residents will be able to do their entire lives.
"It's a people business," he said. "People have skills and talents that they want to share. Maybe just because they want to share or maybe because they want to make some money, whatever, and people out there that want to learn. So that's kind of has been some of our other more traditional programming approaches. And then that's the sports stuff and then the basic skills."
When you boil it down, Woodruff said Parks and Recreation is about quality of life, and about helping people live their best life.
The ability to recognize free time, and to manage it in a way to make you happy is important. After putting a roof over your head and food to eat, how you spend your discretionary time is about what makes you happy.
"It's easy to sit down and just start watching TV and then those hours are gone," Woodruff said. "I'm not knocking TV, I do it but I try to sit down say, 'OK, I'm gonna sit here, watch TV and do that with my time and unwind.'"
The trick, he added, is to recognize that time and manage it.
"And so you control it and not just let it flitter away, because time is so fleeting, it doesn't come back," Woodruff said. "And so to be able to do things that bring you happiness or joy, or identify who you are and your personality. Again, it's just quality of life, about being happy, and trying to make the best that we can and [be of] service to other people."
While the end product, the facilities that make up the park system are important, Woodruff said Parks and Recreation is also about the programs and the life skills, about learning to play — whether it's volleyball, basketball, tennis, sailing or anything that fits within the overall umbrella of the department.
It's the end product that you want to do and the life skills that go along with it, he added. He pointed to a recent recreation class where someone tossed a ball at another person to catch and they jumped back because they'd never been exposed to that.
"So to be able to give people basic skills, especially the kids, to go out and know the basics of a sport and the basic mechanics and how to play it and to have that skill for a lifetime," he said. "So if they're at a family reunion or their friends are playing or it's a summer pickup game somewhere, they're comfortable to do that."
Play, Woodruff said, is important.
"I'm the biggest advocate of play and I'm working very hard to live that lifestyle myself," he added before chuckling. "[Play is] happiness. It's smiling. It's an internal thing that — laughing and smiling and playing. So it's just about the quality of life, truly."
Woodruff said he has no set plans for retirement, other than to play, spend time with his family and enjoy each moment as it comes. While he has enjoyed his time with the city and has loved what he has done, it's time for someone else to take up those reins. When he walks out the door for the last time, that chapter of his life will be over.
"What's really sunk in since deciding to retire is that I'm truly gonna live in the moment. That's awesome," he added. "And you know, having grandkids kind of helped me to see that. I mean, you just sit there and look at 'em. Just look at 'em all day and what are they thinkin'? It's easy to live in that moment. And that's what they're doing so I'm just gonna do that. I'm gonna hang with my grandkids."
He is grateful to all of the mayors and councils he's worked with during his tenure, from Marian Ebbett, who hired him, on down the line to Shelby Rognstad. In all, Woodruff has worked with 10 mayors: Ebbett, Ron Chaney, Dwight Sheffler, David Sawyer, Paul Graves, Ray Miller, Gretchen Hellar, Marsha Ogilvie, Carrie Logan, and Rognstad.
He's also grateful for the many staff and volunteers he's worked with over the years, who have supported the department's programs, both financially and with their time, to boost the area's quality of life.
"And that's kind of the Sandpoint trait and hopefully, it continues to be that way that people will understand that quality of life is so much more and it hasn't really nothing to do with money," Woodruff said. "It doesn't. It doesn't have anything to do with money. For myself, money is way down the list on on my priorities. You know, it's about being an honest and happy person and smiling and smiles are contagious. And that's awesome."