Parks and Recreation Director John Keprios is looking forward to spending time in the outdoors during his retirement.
However, he’s going to miss the relationships he’s formed during the past 35 years working for the city of Edina.
“The most important thing in life is relationships,” he said.
Overseeing the city’s parks and recreation programs isn’t a one-person job, he points out. He wants to thank his staff, his current and former bosses, the Edina City Council and the Edina Park Board for their support throughout the years.
“Thanks to the people in Edina for the opportunity to serve them. It’s been an honor and a privilege,” he said.
Keprios will retire Dec. 27 from the department he’s worked in since 1977. Assistant Parks and Recreation Director Ann Kattreh will begin as the director on Dec. 28.
Kattreh, who has worked with Keprios for the past 20 years, said the staff can’t imagine the void his retirement is going to make in their office. He’s been a wonderful friend and a wonderful personality in the department.
“We’re going to miss him,” she said.
With his retirement, the Parks and Recreation staff is losing someone who has supported them. Kattreh said, “John’s been an amazing mentor to all of us.”
Keprios has been a good listener to residents and has a good relationship with the Park Board, athletic associations and residents, a trait Kattreh said she plans to continue as director.
“He’s been a true champion for athletic associations and neighborhood parks,” she said. “He’s always been a champion of the public process and doing his best to respond to the needs of Edina residents.”
Keprios is a kind person, and highly ethical and very professional, Mayor Jim Hovland said.
“Our town will miss him a great deal,” Hovland said.
He’s been the consummate public servant and is terrific at keeping the broad range of park users in mind, Hovland said. He comes to work every day wanting to make Edina a better place.
“He’s cared about our city far beyond the park system,” Hovland said.
In addition to being a leader in the department, he’s been a leader in the field of parks and recreation in Minnesota, Kattreh said. Hovland pointed out that he doesn’t think there’s an award that Keprios hasn’t received in the field of parks and recreation during his career.
Keprios received the Clifton E. French Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor given by the Minnesota Recreation and Park Association, in 2006.
Keprios was first introduced to the Parks and Recreation Department as a teenager during a string of part-time jobs.
One of his first part-time jobs was working as a warming house attendant in Edina as a junior in high school.
He went on to spend his summers working in various Parks and Recreation jobs, including as a playground leader and director, t-ball instructor and team coordinator. He also ran a hockey camp in Owatonna for three summers. Additionally, he was a participant in athletic and recreation programs.
However, the idea of having a career in park management didn’t start to form until he was in college. He had been thinking about becoming a business manager like his father.
“I felt kinda lost, like most sophomores in college feel,” he said.
He met with a career counselor who looked at his list of part-time park jobs and suggested he make a career out of it.
The ability to make a difference in people’s lives appealed to him.
“It’s more than just a job to serve myself,” he said.
He went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in recreation and park administration.
He began his career as an Edina recreation supervisor in 1977. He was promoted to assistant director of the department in 1986. He took over as director in 1994 when former Director Bob Kojetin retired.
He’s had a great run and it’s amazing how fast the time has gone, he said.
“There’s never been two days the same,” he said of his career.
The best part of his job is working for what he calls the “good news department.” The public loves their parks, he pointed out. People see the hard work that goes into parks and are appreciative of it.
During his career, he’s put millions of dollars into the city’s parks and it shows when residents give feedback that they’re very satisfied, he said.
The job has been very rewarding and he’s been very blessed, he said.
He is most proud of beginning Edina’s adaptive recreation program, he said, saying he still remembers the night the city council approved it.
Up until that point, it was up to parents to provide adaptive recreation for their children and Keprios thought the city could do it.
He hired an adaptive recreation director and Bloomington, Edina, Eden Prairie and Richfield formed a four-city consortium for adaptive recreation.
He’s also proud of the focus on increasing park maintenance he began in the department when he took over in 1994.
To do so, the city offered two referendums to the voters in a special election in the spring of 1996, one for $5.5 million for park facilities and a second for $2.5 million to build the third sheet of ice at Braemar Arena. The voters passed both referendums at 78 percent, which was a high percentage for a special election.
The referendums brought the parks to the level at which they should have been, he said. Department staff spent the next years putting in trails, building shelters and replacing lights.
“It kept me busy,” he said.
Other projects Keprios is proud of during his tenure are building the skate park and the gyms next to the Edina Community Center and South View Middle School, as well as developing Van Valkenburg Park into a three-field softball complex and developing Fox Meadows Park.
As he heads into retirement, there’s still one project he wants to see through to completion: the Edina Veterans Memorial in Utley Park.
He plans to continue working on it on a volunteer basis. He had been hoping to complete the project before he retired. The project needs $500,000 to be completed and the memorial’s committee has raised $130,000 so far.
“I want to see it completed,” he said.
Throughout the years, Keprios has watched Edina change. He attended sixth through 11th grade in Edina. He went to elementary school at Cahill, then South View Junior High. His high school is now the Edina Community Center.
Although he now lives in Eagan, Edina is still like home, he said.
The decision to retire was an awakening for him. He had been told about the decision, “When the time comes, you’ll know,” and he found that to be true.
He’s looking forward to the new chapter of his life. He’s bought an all-terrain vehicle as a gift to himself. He also loves to ice fish, hunt, hike and canoe. He’s planning on spending more time at his place on Pelican Lake near Brainerd and traveling more in the Boundary Waters.
Edina staff estimate during his 35-year career, John Keprios has:
• Attended 260 Park Board meetings
• Scheduled 1,260 softball games
• Hired 1,000 part-time employees
• Attended 324 Edina City Council meetings