ORIGINALLY WRITTEN TOM STOPPEL
Recreation is anything but a leisure activity for Margo Yates, who directs the program for the city of Marion.
Yates performs her organizational magic behind the scenes at Marion recreational events in addition to many other duties she performs for the betterment of the community.
“Recreation director is just one of my hats,” Yates said. “But it all seems to fit. I’m pretty well organized, but I also think it’s important to be aware of your own limits.”
Those limits have apparently yet to be reached since Yates throws her hat into many venues in Marion.
“A lot of these jobs just seem to fit together,” Yates said from her office in city hall.
Yates is executive secretary of the Marion Chamber of Commerce, where she keeps the minutes for the record of proceedings for the Marion County Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals.
In addition, she’s one of only two original founding members of the Chingawassa Days Committee-Judge Michael Powers is the other-and she also finds time to be the Community Service Work coordinator for Marion County, keeping track of the court-ordered hours people serve.
“It doesn’t matter if they work in Goessel or wherever, I work with them to find something to do and get it turned in to the courts so they get proper credit,” Yates said.
“That’s part of the reason I took on the community service thing because we can always use the help, too.”
But for all her involvements, Yates finds her work as rec director the most fulfilling.
“It’s all about the kids-it really is,” Yates said. “Overall, I feel very blessed because I get to do something different every day.”
Although not a Marion native, Yates said it didn’t take long to think of the city as home.
“I grew up in McPherson, but we had friends in Marion,” she said. “We wanted to come over here and get out of the city, and we were lucky enough to find a place here in the country.
“Marion just felt like home pretty quickly.”
Yates began working on her home in 1990. In 1992, she moved to Marion with her son, who is now a sophomore at Butler County Community College in El Dorado.
Soon she dove head first into community events, volunteering for an array of projects. But it was the recreation job that caught her interest even though it wasn’t what she trained for in college.
Yates graduated from BCCC and attended the University of Missouri in Columbia for a couple of years. She eventually graduated from Wichita State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a minor in sociology.
Her degrees hardly prepared her for the task of running a recreation program.
“I guess this has basically been on-the-job-training for me,” Yates said. “I don’t have a background in recreation.
“It’s a deal where our rec program, literally before my time, was just an idea where some mothers in town wanted after-school activities for their kids.”
What began primarily as an arts and crafts program has grown considerably.
“We have over 500 people who use the Marion recreation program each year,” Yates said. “And we now have people from pre-schoolers to senior citizens who are involved.”
Yates said her role as director has evolved over the years.
“This recreation job is kind of weird because I’ve done it for years, but it’s changed,” she said. “When I first began doing it, I was called the recreation coordinator. I did everything except baseball and softball. Those were separate deals.”
But eventually all the programs were combined under one department and Yates was asked to lead it in April of 2003.
Yates said her interest and involvement stems from earlier days of her life.
“I know it’s hard to believe, but I was very athletic as a kid growing up,” she said with a laugh.
Yates said funding is at the center of many program decisions.
“I think funding is always the most difficult part of this job,” Yates said. “We’d do as much as we could if we had an unlimited budget, but we don’t.
“But I think we’ve done really well watching the dollars the past couple of years.”
Yates said the recreation commission must find ways to stretch its limited budget.
“The city of Marion gives us $17,000 to work with,” she said. “Plus, we have our fees and the school district budgets up to $8,000 more.
“But if you’re too relaxed with your spending, it’ll get away from you before you know it.”
While Yates is grateful for the support and money set aside for recreational activities, other projects on her wish-list require much more funding-which, as of yet, isn’t available.
“We’d love to have a new swimming pool, but the cost is just so great,” she said. “We’ve looked at some grants, but they’re just for a few thousand dollars.”
Another constant challenge for Yates is deciding what programs will be met with the greatest amount of interest.
“It’s all about the kids, but we have a lot of classes for adults too,” she said. “The job would be a lot easier if I could just figure people out.
“What works one time might not work the next,” she said. “Some programs have a lot of interest in the planning stages, but when the time comes, people just don’t show up.”
Ideas for classes come from a variety of sources.
“We get our ideas by asking the public, and I’m always taking notes as someone says something,” she said. “I’ve also looked at other towns’ programs and at magazines and newspapers.
“Sometimes those things will spark an idea,” she added. “If someone has an idea in the community, by all means I want to hear from them.
“I don’t pretend to think of it all.”
Yates also stressed that the recreation commission is anything but a one-person show.
“There are a lot of people working together,” she said. “I’m just another person. There’s a lot of people in this town who put a lot of time in.”
Yates said Terry Edwards has been invaluable as the man in charge of the baseball complex and the person responsible for organizing the winter basketball league.
Others who make her job easier are Russ and Marci Cain, who organize the baseball boosters and have added to the beauty of the baseball facilities.
“The booster club is the best thing I’ve ever seen anyone come up with,” Yates said.
Planning for the future is an ongoing process, Yates said.
“Our big thing now is to have another successful basketball program this winter,” she said. “And we’ve got a new person in town who will be teaching an aerobics and strength-training class.
“I’m excited about that because a lot of times people want the class, but you can’t find instructors,” she added. “We’ve also get a couple of young people trying to put together a skate park road trip.”
While all Yates’ jobs are considered part time, her devotion and satisfaction rival the rewards of any full-time job.
“I guess it takes a certain type of person to do what I do,” she said. “I hope I’m big enough of a person to know my own limits.
“I just want the people in Marion to have options available when they have time to spend on recreational activities.”