Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Our View - City Council should rename Sand Lake Recreation Area in honor of Terry Trueblood

(Iowa City Press-Citizen "Our View," July 11, 2009)

For a brief glimpse of how Terry Trueblood approached his job as director of the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Department, watch the October 2008 interview he did for "The Community Voice" (

You'll see a little bit of the patience and thoroughness he brought to every aspect of his job.

You'll see the quiet, thoughtful demeanor that made it so easy for him to negotiate among different departments and between city staff and the public.

You'll see a man who not only loves his job but who also knows it well and who has performed it exceptionally and without fanfare for more than two decades.

But you'll also see a man who already has faced two bouts with cancer (prostate and colon) and who soon will have to take an extended sick leave for a bout with pancreatic cancer that eventually will take his life on July 3.

"We've had seven months to prepare for this, but we just didn't think of it like that," said Mike Moran, who has spent 23 of his 26 years with the department under Trueblood's leadership. "I fully expected him to come walking through that door like he's done before."

Moran said that he knew of Trueblood by reputation long before the Colorado native first arrived in Iowa City in 1986.

"When I heard he was going to take the job in Iowa City, I thought, 'What a coup,'" Moran said.

Finding the department in some financial trouble, Trueblood began implementing the meticulous standards that he had become known for. Soon, he not only had helped the department out of its financial troubles, but he began spearheading efforts to fund Mercer Aquatics Center, Scanlon Gym, the Kickers Soccer Complex, Waterworks Prairie Park and Thornberry Off-leash Dog Park.

"Our previous director had everything running about 99 miles per hour," Moran said. "Terry slowed things down to 50 and made sure things got done and got done well. ... He didn't do anything half-baked."

Even a partial list of the projects Trueblood helped to fully "bake" in the past 23 years proves the old adage, "Slow and steady wins the race."

John Westefeld, University of Iowa psychology professor and chairman of the Iowa City Parks and Recreation Commission, was so impressed with Trueblood's leadership style that in 2007 he nominated the public servant for the Press-Citizen Person of the Year.

"He had an amazing ability to bring groups of people together for the common good," Westefeld said. "He was one of the unsung heroes of city government."

Although Trueblood is gone, his vision for parks and recreation will continue through the recently released master plan for the department. Producing a master plan had long been a priority for Trueblood, and the final report relies heavily on his insight. (To view the plan, visit

Not surprisingly, the master plan is both ambitious and expensive. It will require a huge commitment from the community if it is going to be implemented over the next decade. But Moran said Trueblood didn't want the department to be "a burden on the taxpayers" and was working on a plan to make the department less dependent on property tax dollars.

"He knew we would never be able to fund ourselves totally," Moran said, "but we could fund ourselves at a higher level ... through getting people to cooperatively do things for us that wouldn't cost as much."

That's why Trueblood's vision will require more than just city tax money. It will require the types of intergovernmental partnerships that allowed for the construction of the Grant Wood gym -- what Moran called an ideal blend of school district and Community Development Block Grant money. And it also will require the type of public/private partnership that enabled the construction of the city's dog park.

Given today's economic conditions, Iowa City's elected officials must view park development as of lesser priority than public safety, and they must make their budget decisions accordingly. But they also should follow Trueblood's example of working cooperatively and creatively -- at a slow but steady pace -- to enhance the city's recreation areas.

In the meantime, the council at least should approve the recommendation of the Parks and Recreation Commission and rename the Sand Lake Recreation Area in Terry Trueblood's honor.

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