At the start of the new year, Dick Wulf stepped down as Evergreen Park and Recreation District’s first and only executive director and left behind a matchless record of service to his neighbors.
“A lot of people in this community, when they think of park and rec, think of Dick Wulf,” says EPRD treasurer Allan Casey. “He’s been here pretty much from day one. He is the district.”
Casey makes no overstatement. EPRD’s history and that of Wulf are virtually one and the same.
When the district initially formed in 1969, Wulf and his wife, Christine, were living on Bear Mountain and commuting to jobs down the hill. With a degree from the University of Northern Colorado in health, physical education and recreation, Wulf ran swimming programs in Boulder and Broomfield. At home, he watched EPRD’s development with interest.
“At first, the board kept track of construction on Evergreen Recreation Center themselves,” Wulf says. “I used to go down there and follow the progress myself. In 1972, the board decided they needed someone full-time to see it through. When they advertised the job, I applied for it. At that time, aquatics was the big thing, and that’s what got me the job — my strong background in aquatics. I was the district’s first employee.”
At the time, one warm body was probably sufficient for the sparsely populated district.
“Back then, it was hard to put your finger on the population. The county couldn’t give us any good numbers, so we used a combination of county figures and public service data to get a working estimate of 4,000 people in the district. We only had a dozen or 20 programs, but swimming was our primary focus, and I spent the majority of my time in the pool. At the time, the rec center wasn’t much more than a pool.”
District baseball, softball, basketball and tennis programs were largely contracted through Evergreen High School using county coaches and facilities, a tradition Wulf has been pleased to encourage through the years.
“We’ve always had an excellent relationship with the school district, and we still use a lot of school facilities. We wouldn’t be what we are today without their help.”
Evergreen’s grown somewhat in the last three decades, and the district has grown apace. A major population boom in the late 1970s spurred a pair of major Evergreen Rec Center expansions, and in 1980 Wulf was delighted to add Evergreen Lake as a district amenity.
“The lake has always been considered the heart of Evergreen, and we worked for a couple years before it finally happened. I think it was important for Evergreen to have local control over programming at the lake. For one thing, we were able to bring back boating, which Denver Parks hadn’t done for years.”
Increasing demands on Wulf’s time eventually forced him to abandon his first love — swimming — for a full-time seat in the front office.
“I was working 70- and 80-hour weeks, and there finally came a day when I realized I couldn’t do both. I had to put 100 percent into the administration of the district. I’ve always loved coaching, and it was a big transition for me, but I also enjoyed the challenge.”
In 35 years at the helm, Wulf oversaw EPRD’s evolution from a pool and a couple of locker rooms to a recreation empire with some 22,500 residents served by about 35 full-time district employees and another 225 part-time ones.
“Right now, in any given quarter, we offer between 250 and 300 programs. A lot of our programs evolved out of interest from the community. People say ‘we want this’ or ‘you should do that,’ and we always listen. It’s been interesting to watch our programs evolve, like the evolution of soccer in Evergreen and, more recently, lacrosse. It’s been very satisfying to be able to meet those needs.”
“Dick brought a real commitment to the district,” Casey says. “He cared about the people of the district, the district employees, and about giving Evergreen the very best park and recreation district possible.”
Then, last year, Wulf announced that 35 years would suffice.
“I turned 65 last September, and you start to lose energy,” Wulf explains. “I saw all the new staff coming in, and I think I just saw it was time to let someone else take over.”
Perhaps more importantly, Wulf’s got plans that can’t be contemplated by a busy district director.
“I still have my health, and there are other things I want to do yet. I’d like to spend more time visiting my kids, and I have a neat piece of property that I’d like to spend more time with. I’ve got fences to fix and barns to repair. I’m just going to putz.”
Fortunately for everyone, Wulf won’t be packing it in all at once. For the time being, he’ll remain available to consult for the district and bring his replacement, John Skeel, up to speed on how things work in the mountain area.
“One of the benefits we have with this transition is that we get to hang on to Dick for a couple years,” Casey says. “Dick knows who to call and how to get things done, and over the years he’s built solid relationships and trust within this community. It will take time to replace that, so we’re lucky to be able to call on him.”
For the first time in 35 years, Dick Wulf doesn’t have a district desk to call his own. These days, he conducts most of his consultations seated in an overstuffed chair at Buchanan Recreation Center’s public lounge. It’s a workable arrangement, but a melancholy one. The habits of a lifetime die hard, and it’ll take awhile for Wulf to get the hang of putzing.
“It’s kind of tough because the district’s been so important to me for so long” he says. “Looking back, it’s been very satisfying, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it, but I’ll always give the credit to the people of this community. Their interest and their desire to see more parks and more facilities are really why we are where we are today.”