|Longtime Employee Bud Forgey Retires From Johnson County Park and Recreation District|
When Shawnee Mission Park Senior Park Worker Bud Forgey retires from the Johnson County Park and Recreation District on Nov. 5, he will have officially served the agency for 34 years. But because his time was punctuated by two periods where he left - once for two years to serve in the Army and another for about 13 years through most of the 1980s to pursue other ventures, - he has been an observer of most of the District's 50-year history.
"He's been a wealth of information about the District's history and the history of Shawnee Mission Park," said current District Director Michael Meadors. "Many of the significant infrastructure and landmarks in this park (Shawnee Mission Park), he either had the knowledge of how it was done and when it was done, or he himself had a hand in it. That's what makes his retirement especially significant and sad though certainly it's a celebration for him and his family. He's also been a mentor to new professionals that were brought on board here. He was eager to teach them what he knew - some of his skills - carpentry, electrical, plumbing - from his years of doing those things in the park. The employees that really were eager to learn the old trades, he really shined in that relationship."
Forgey, who obviously enjoys telling stories of the District's early days, started with the park district in 1956. As he tells it, he was hired as a 16-year-old by the District's first Superintendent of Parks, John Barkley, at the then-phenomenal rate of $1.25 per hour.
He spent two years developing Antioch Park before serving a stint in the Army where his bunkmate for basic training in Fort Hood, Texas, was none other than Elvis Presley. Upon returning in 1960, he was a "Straw Boss" at the then-under-development Shawnee Mission Park.
"I started here when it was a dairy farm," Forgey said." There wasn't nothing here, just a hedgerow and an old gravel road."
With the help of Forgey and that first park crew, of which he believes he is the sole surviving member, that soon changed. He helped quarry the rock on-site and build the stone pillars which still greet visitors at the park's 79th Street entrance. Other significant projects with which he was involved included building the park's observation tower, fish rearing ponds below the dam, three Y-drive flower beds, and the rock wall around Shelter 4 near the marina.
Forgey worked his way up to park manager before leaving the District in 1976. He built houses for the first year after he left and then worked as a mechanic with Olathe Ford Tractor until he returned to the District in 1989.
It was upon returning to the District that Forgey began collecting items for a "Parks Scrapbook" in which he recounts much of the District's history. Toward this end, he has compiled an eight-inch thick loose-leaf notebook which he plans to donate during a Nov. 5 employee luncheon for permanent display in Shawnee Mission Park's John Barkley Visitors Center.
"I want everybody to be able to go through and see how it started and when it started," Forgey said.
To help tell this story, Forgey uses old newspaper clippings, various documents he's saved, and old photos. There are articles on Board and staff members, controversies and accomplishments, and documents ranging from original plans for Shawnee Mission Park, a park brochure from 1964, flyers from past bond issues, and a napkin emblazoned with the Gold Medal logo. He estimates he has easily put a month's worth of work into assembling his scrapbook.
While it's obvious Forgey is eagerly looking forward to his well-earned retirement, he'll readily admit that he's already talked with Streamway Park Manager Eddie Coffey about the possibility of coming back seasonally to help. But before that can happen, Forgey and his wife, Hazel, have planned a trip that should be a worthy addition to a long history of travel that has taken them to 47 states over the years.