By Sue Botos
Newly appointed parks and recreation Director Chris Mehling had heard that Rocky River was a unique community to live in, especially during the summer, but it was an experience he had after moving back to the area from California that proved the point.
“When we moved here, we took my dad to Rocky River Park the day before he had surgery, and people clapped for the sunset,” he recalled during a recent interview.
Better utilization of city parks is just one goal for the Sandusky native, who most recently served as district executive for the Boy Scouts of America, overseeing eastern and southeastern Cleveland communities. Prior to working with the Scouts, he was executive director of the West Shore YMCA in Westlake. His 16-year career with the YMCA also included time in Cupertino, Calif., where he “wore many hats,” including program director and curriculum writer for the child care program.
Mehling brings to his new job a “hands-on” philosophy. “Recreation is knowing that you’re making a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis. I equate that to teaching. Teachers get to watch the progress and development of their students each day,” Mehling stated.
Originally, Mehling did have his sights set on becoming a teacher, studying elementary education at Bowling Green State University. But with only his student teaching left, Mehling’s career aspirations took a slight turn as the result of his teaching practicum.
“I taught seventh grade math and I loved it. Then I was asked to teach second-graders and my planning and free periods were (spent) by myself. At that point in my life I couldn’t deal with that. I also needed some adult interaction,” he recalled.
He said it was then that his guidance counselor steered him toward health promotion and recreation, the field in which he eventually got his degree.
His desire to work with all age groups as well as to witness the results of programs he implemented led Mehling to Rocky River from the Boy Scouts. “With the Y, if I was having a bad day or if a funder didn’t come through, all I had to do was go back out into the gym, and I knew I was in the right place,”Mehling recalled. He added that this was the “one piece” he missed while working for the Boy Scouts.
“I love diversity and working with all age groups,” continued Mehling, adding that he looks forward to dealing with Rocky River residents from preschoolers to seniors. He noted that he hoped to expand on the SilverSneakers program, maybe with offerings such as aerobics for seniors on ice.
“Part of my dream is to get out of the box of the civic center. I want to utilize our parks more,” Mehling continued. As an example, he said a summer morning yoga class in a park could be considered.
As well as the parks, Mehling said that he was impressed with the city’s other recreational facilities. “We have beautiful amenities here,” he said, commenting that they were on par with nearby public and private recreation centers. “The mechanical room for the pool filtration system is phenomenal. The designer laid it out for cost-saving and running without exacerbating cost.”
Of course, it’s this attention to thriftiness that tops Mehling’s agenda. “Budgeting is always a challenge, especially with state and federal cuts. Fortunately, we have a wonderful staff which comes up with creative ideas for solutions,” he said. The bottom line will still be quality programs and customer service, he added.
Mayor Pam Bobst has given Mehling her own vote of confidence. “He has a wealth of knowledge about managing facilities. His understanding of the importance of partnerships and the many he has created will also be advantageous,” she commented.
As for the “hands on” approach, Mehling plans to keep that up. “Maybe I’ll teach a basketball class,” he said with a laugh.