The Sumner-Bonney Lake Recreation Department has experienced a remarkable growth spurt since it started on April 15, 1991.
Participants involved in youth and adult sports as well as other recreational programs have increased from 3,190 to 11,381 during the 2011-12 fiscal year, a 257 percent increase.
“We try to be cutting-edge and the trending recreation department in Pierce County,” said Rebecca Giles, the department’s director.
Giles will step down from her role Thursday after nearly 22 years as the organization’s leader.
“I’m not burned out,” she said. “Just felt it was time after 30 years and time for someone else. It’s been an amazing ride.”
Before she started as director of the department, Giles served as a recreation programmer for the City of Kent for eight years.
A native of Alaska, Giles received bachelor’s of science degrees from Central Washington University in recreation and leisure services and in physical education.
In April 1991, then-Sumner School District Superintendent Donald Eismann and Tim Thomsen, the athletic director for the district, helped create an interlocal agreement between the district and the cities of Sumner and Bonney Lake. The agreement launched a recreation department that provides sports programs to children.
The idea was that the programs would prepare children with the fundamental skills that would be needed to excel in sports at the junior high and high school levels.
Giles helped to foster the program from its start. Her leadership has attracted more than 230,000 youth to participate in sports.
“I can watch kids go from pee-wee sports up to junior high and high school,” she said. “It’s a special feeling.”
Streams of photos that document her interaction with youth and adults on and off the field blanket the walls of her office at the Robert Miller Gymnasium building behind Daffodil Elementary School.
“I will come back and support this community by attending games,” Giles said. “There are kids that are playing sports now that started with the programs.”
Giles said she has family connections in the community that she adores.
“They have just made my life really special,” she said.
Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said he considers Giles a consummate professional and a friend.
“When I was diagnosed with leukemia, she was a great support,” Johnson said. “She has always been the engine behind the whole parks and recreation department. She is a go-getter and makes sure things happen.”
Johnson said Giles also is a price-conscience leader. He said Giles watched the bottom line to make sure Sumner and Bonney Lake residents got the best bang for their buck.
“She has been good with doing more with less,” Johnson said.
Last year, Bonney Lake taxpayers contributed $33,000 toward the department.
“It’s a tremendous value, and it serves Sumner and Bonney Lake well,” Johnson said.
Giles said she has been able to keep program fees down because of strong partnerships with the business community. She solicits sponsorships and said she has a good rapport with many business leaders.
Giles said the community support has been amazing.
“We’ve been unbelievably blessed by great businesses and families,” she said.
Starting Friday, Giles plans to get back in a regimen of lifting weights and preparing for more mountain climbing, something for which she’s passionate.
Last October, Giles climbed a 56-mile upward trek to the first base camp of Annapurna, a mountain range in the Himalayas.
“It was the stair-stepper from hell,” she said.
The recreation department will continue under the direction of Rich Hanson as recreation manager. Hanson will report to Thomsen, who will provide oversight from the school district. The district will continue as the department’s fiduciary agent.
Hanson said he plans to find new ways to attract youth and might add additional programs for senior citizens.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at Andrew.email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.