by A.C. Hall
It’s not easy to be universally beloved when you’re in city government, yet somehow White Settlement Parks and Recreation Director Richard Tharp seems to pull it off. When it came time for the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce to name their Public Servant of the Year, Tharp was the clear choice. Steve Groomer, a member of the Chamber committee who chose Tharp, spoke about what made them choose the Parks Director.
“The public servant award is given to someone the committee feels goes above and beyond to serve White Settlement and the citizens of the city,” Groomer said. “Rich’s tireless efforts to lead the Parks department and Animal Shelter have made him worthy of this award. He and his crews maintain the city parks in top shape and he is always open to speak with council members, city board members or the public in general regarding their concerns and issues.”
Those who know Rich know he’s a humble man, and getting a humble man to talk about himself isn’t always easy. When asked about his feelings on receiving the honor, Tharp was quick with a joke.
“I was completely surprised by the announcement, and I had to wonder if they had lowered their judging criteria this year,” Tharp joked.
He went on to share his true thoughts on the honor, saying it’s a very humbling thing.
“Honestly though, I was thinking there are a lot more deserving people of this selection than myself,” Tharp said. “I am very honored and grateful to the community for being recognized this year for just doing what I love.”
In speaking to Tharp, it’s easy to figure out that thing he loves. Tharp loves the outdoors. You might expect that a man who spends every day working outside might relax in front of the television when he gets home, but Tharp lists his relaxing activities as boating, hiking, biking, and fishing.
“I usually find myself in a park somewhere on and off the clock,” Tharp said.
Tharp even turns park visiting into a work related exercise, frequenting parks and facilities in other cities to get an outsiders perspective on them.
“I have found that to be one of the best tools for learning what to look for, what to do differently, how to improve, et cetera,” Tharp said.
No one is shy about acknowledging the difficulty of Tharp’s job. There’s even a running joke around City Hall about it. On several occasions, city leaders joke with Tharp about nobody wanting to do the work he does maintaining and running the city’s many parks, as well as overseeing the animal shelter. When asked about succeeding in a difficult position, Tharp is quick to point out he doesn’t work alone.
“If I have been successful at what I do it is most definitely due to the fact that I am surrounded by a lot of very talented people in different departments throughout the city working together to provide services back to the community,” Tharp said. “White Settlement is certainly blessed with a great city staff of individuals with many different talents, abilities, and skills to offer.”
He also referenced his love of the outdoors as another reason the job suits him.
“I also really enjoy what I do, and that makes my job pretty easy most of the time,” Tharp said. “I feel very fortunate to have a job that allows me to work in so many different areas and outlets of the parks and recreation industry, it definitely keeps it interesting.”
When asked to share some of his favorite memories and accomplishments, Tharp pointed to the transformation of Saddle Hills Park from a barely used area to a thriving disc golf course as something in the last few years he’s found exciting.
“We were able to take an underused and undeveloped park, and turn it into a destination for people to play disc golf,” Tharp said. “In just a few short years, it is a heavily used neighborhood park area that provides leisure and organized recreational opportunities for the community.”
Tharp also talked about the many different parks and the many different activities that take place in them.
“I just like to see the parks being used and people enjoying them,” Tharp said.
Public servant doesn’t have a shiny or inspirational definition in the dictionary. It’s defined as “A person who holds a government position by election or appointment.” That’s not all it means to Tharp, however.
“It’s all about building valuable relationships and partnerships with residents, businesses, churches, and organizations to provide services, in the form of Parks and Recreation in my case, back to the community,” Tharp said.
As for what advice he’d give to someone wanting to be a public servant, Tharp shared this.
“It is a continual process each day, so you better enjoy the journey or you’re in for a mighty long ride.”
Rich Tharp will officially be honored as the Public Servant of the Year this Saturday night at the White Settlement Area Chamber of Commerce banquet.