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Director Becky Giles retires from Recreation department after 22 years

Becky Giles with youth basketball coach Paul Ortega at a 2011 Parks and Recreation basketball jamboree. - Courtesy of Becky Giles
Becky Giles with youth basketball coach Paul Ortega at a 2011 Parks and Recreation basketball jamboree.
— image credit: Courtesy of Becky Giles

Today, the citizens of Bonney Lake are preparing to vote for or against a Metro Parks District in spring; though Orton Junction has been frozen, the citizens of Sumner have kept a YMCA in their minds; and both cities' children can sign up for a plethora of club sports, such as Valley Wolfpack or Rainier Rugby — if they're inclined when the season comes. Much of this has been made possible, according to Sumner School District athletic director Tim Thomsen, by the culture of athleticism and friendly competition fostered by Becky Giles.

Giles has been the director of the Bonney Lake/Sumner interlocal Recreation department since 1991. On Feb. 28, she will retire. She's planned the departure since 2011, but that couldn't stop her from holding back tears during her department report and farewell at a Jan. 16 school board meeting.

"I've been planning it for two years," she said in an interview Thursday. "My employees tease me about it, about how I'm the only person who's given two years notice on a job, but you have no idea how I'm a planner. I can't really grasp the thought of not working like I have been, but I know it's time.

"I've had 30 years (including time working in the city of Kent) of nights, full days, weekends and, basically, living my job. It's time to have some kind of life before I get ancient."

In her time directing the department, Giles has become well-known and loved among colleagues and families for her warmth, hyper-competence and seemingly endless reserves of energy. Bonney Lake Special Events Coordinator David Wells compared her to "the Energizer bunny on Red Bull."

She's needed all of those qualities for the job. Former Superintendent Donald Eismann, with Thomsen, envisioned the rec department as a sort of training program for Sumner High School's sports teams, which had lagged in competition throughout the '80s. But the undertaking was too expensive for any one city to take on. Even with the eventual shared contribution of money and facilities by both cities and the school district, the budget was tight.

"Her budget is on a shoestring," Bonney Lake Mayor Neil Johnson said. "But Becky has always found a way to make it work."

Giles began with a $42,000 annual budget, no staff, half an office and only a handful of programs. She borrowed $5,000 from the school district to print the department's first newsletter, and 70-80 hour weeks were the norm during her first three years. Today, the program has a nearly $82,000 budget, three employees, an office out of Daffodil Valley Elementary and a robust roster of programs that largely support themselves from activities fees.

"The support she provides our coaches and the kids is phenomenal," Thomsen said. "In the '80s, local kids, if they were lucky, would be able to play little league for a few months, soccer for a few months, and that would be about it.

"(The interlocal parks and recreation) concept had never been tried before and, thanks to Becky, we've had an extraordinary outcome."

Thomsen was the person who hired Giles away from her job as programming coordinator for Kent Parks and Recreation; he still jokingly tells her that she was his second-choice candidate. The punchline is he's never had to second-guess that final decision.

"I’ve asked around and many cities don’t have the partnership we have for Recreation," Sumner City Administrator John Galle said. "It is a great partnership, but it meant that Becky served not only the Sumner School District but also the cities of Sumner and Bonney Lake. Anyone who serves three 'bosses' for as many years as Becky did deserves a medal. She has our greatest appreciation and thanks.”

Dedicated doesn't begin to describe Giles' attitude for the job; every wall of her office is covered with photos of kids in her sports programs, her many dogs, her coaches, colleagues and friends. Many of the original athletes in her sports programs have since had children of their own and enrolled them in Parks and Recreation programs. She welcomes every new person in the program and her life as if they were a member of her extended family.

"I'm friends of hers outside of work," Wells said. "She's very laid back, very casual and, if she's on your side, she's 100 percent behind you. She's a woman of her word. Those are qualities a lot of people don't have anymore, but Becky has them."

Mayor Johnson related how Giles reached out immediately after his leukemia diagnosis, offering support and sharing her own experience with cancer in the family.

"She gave me that confidence vote to hang in there," he said.

Giles isn't entirely sure what she'll do in those first weeks after she's left the recreation department; it's been so long since she's done anything else. But she does plan to volunteer and spend more time enjoying the outdoors. A little further down the line, she plans to found a consulting company specializing in developing and streamlining parks and recreation departments.

"Becky is a broad thinker," Bonney Lake special project manager Gary Leaf said. "She's able to think in broad strategic terms and solve those big problems. She's been very creative in running the recreation department and she'll be hard to replace."

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