Saving Lives, Paving the Way

Spotlight Professional in Parks & Recreation - Ray Towry

Describe the scope of your position with the City of Ephrate.
I have been blessed to have a job that has allowed me to do a little bit of everything. My City Administrator has referred to me as the utility infielder. I work with Carrie Hoiness and try to support her as she runs the recreation programs and our aquatic center, which includes hiring 60 seasonal employees. I work with the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee to ensure that the Hotel/Motel Tax is properly administered. I oversee the park development efforts and assist in maintenance planning. I am the City’s liaison for several outside agencies such as the Chamber of Commerce and Grant County Economic Development Council, of which I was just President of the Board of Directors. I even trapped feral cats as part of a no kill program with Best Friends Animal Society…no joke. I have literally herded cats!

Describe the scope of your new position.
Starting in November, I’ll be the new City Manager for Sweet Home, Oregon. I’ll work with the city council and citizens to cultivate and understand their vision and goals for the community and then work with the staff to develop the strategies to meet these goals. The City of Sweet Home has water, sewer, sanitation, parks and police services. It also owns a large community center that houses a Boys and Girls Club and Senior Center. Fire services are delivered by a separate fire district. 

Background experience and previous careers.
Wow, I started as a lifeguard here in Ephrata back in 1989. My very first time in a lifeguard chair, I had a double victim rescue. A smaller boy snuck off the diving board and couldn’t make it back to the ladder. As I went after him his older brother jumped in and the younger brother grabbed him in the classic front head hold that you see in the old American Red Cross videos. That was my induction into Parks and Recreation. 

I went from Ephrata High School on to graduate from WSU with my BA in Recreation Administration. While at WSU I volunteered a substantial amount of time under the tutelage of a gentleman named Al Vordebrueggen, then with the City of Pullman. I also did three summers of practicum and an internship with the City of Moses Lake. I went from WSU graduate to my first full time job in Moscow (Idaho), back to Moses Lake full time and have been with the City of Ephrata for the past 13 years.  

Why are you excited about with your new position?
It’s just a new challenge, it’s a job I think I can be successful in serving the community’s needs. I really think it will be a great fit in that my experiences can help fill their needs moving forward.

I love working at the City of Ephrata. The co-workers are like family. I’ve had two great mayors, great city councils and the best City Administrator I could ever ask to work for. The City Administrator, Wes, mentored and coached me to be ready for my new position. Not only a great boss but here but encouraged me to grow professionally at every opportunity.

I’ve lived in the Columbia Basin my entire life other than while in college. This will be something completely new.

What do you see as your biggest challenge in your new position?
I think the biggest challenge for anyone coming into a new leadership position is dealing with the transition first and foremost. I think you have to find ways to empower the staff to a turn the page and start a new chapter in their life. Change can be really hard for people. You have to do that while balancing your management responsibilities, learning and assessing what you have in place and then creating a great culture within the organization. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Don’t ever forget about your organization’s culture…

What's the best advice you can give to someone starting out in the field of parks and recreation?
I have a list!!

  1. Just love it!! It’s so fun, you get to do so many things with so many people. You can touch so many lives.
  2. Be involved in your profession. Jump in to WRPA with both feet. I’ve learned so much from others. It’s your chance to be part of a great group of people who will do anything to help you succeed. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of people like Mary Dodsworth, Mike Dobb, Bob Vaux, Dave Erickson, Pete Mayer, Darrell Jennings, Paul Simmons and Bruce Fletcher just to name a few. I’ve called all of them for help on different things over the years – especially as a young department head. But I met them all through WRPA.
  3. Commit yourself to lifelong learning – formal and informal. Go to every seminar and training you can, then stay after and talk to as many of the people there as you can. Each of them has knowledge from their experiences you can glean from. I didn’t start my MPA program until I was 39. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
  4. Find balance. It’s super easy to get caught up in parks and recreation, especially because it’s not generally an 8 to 5 job. It’s fun work, but make sure to schedule time for yourself and your family. I look back and see times when I wish I had worked as hard to create awesome experiences for my family as I did for the public I serve. There have been so many summer holiday weekends that I had to work or am in the middle of bar-b-queing and get a call about poop in the pool! I had to hand the flipper off to someone else and high tail it to work. Make that time up with your family.
  5. Call home. No matter where you are or what you’re doing, your parent(s) will want to hear from you.