A Passion for Parks
It’s a shame Steve Beachy’s last name isn’t “Parker.”
That would have been a perfect reflection of the man’s nearly lifelong devotion to municipal beautification, reclamation, and recreation.
For nearly 30 years Beachy served as director of the College Station Parks & Recreation Department. He played a key role in growing the city’s parks program into one of the most well-respected in the state.
Today, some 10 years after Beachy’s retirement, there are 58 parks in College Station, occupying nearly 1,500 acres. The Parks & Recreation Department oversees three swimming pools, a skate park, an amphitheater, two recreation centers, the city’s two municipal cemeteries, as well as nearly 24 miles of walking trails, seven pavilions, three dog parks, and 127 athletic fields.
The city’s Central Park, where the College Station Parks & Recreation “world headquarters” resides, was named in Beachy’s honor shortly after his retirement.
“Through the years, it was exciting to see how the city grew,” Beachy says. “The one constant was that we always had visionaries among our council members, mayors, advisory boards, and city managers.
“Parks were always a high priority because our city leaders wanted an exceptional quality of life to go along with the growth of the community.”
Beachy developed an appreciation for parks at an early age.
“The street where I grew up in Abilene, Texas, was a dirt road,” Beachy says. “Our house wasn’t much: two bedrooms–maybe 900 square feet in size total–but it backed up to a park.
“And when I say ‘park,’ it was undeveloped, about 10 acres, with mesquite trees and the old Cat Claw Creek running through it.
“Later on, the city came in and cleared it and put in picnic tables, but when I was growing up all the kids in the neighborhood loved the nature part of the park because we could make forts, have BB-gun fights, and do all that kind of stuff.”
Beachy enrolled at Texas A&M for the fall semester of 1965, making him a member of the historic Class of ’69, the first to see the open admission of women and minorities, and the elimination of mandatory membership in the Corps of Cadets. Beachy, however, chose to join the Corps.
“People talk about the Sixties and all the marches that took place on college campuses,” Beachy jokes. “As a member of the Corps, we marched, too. We marched to breakfast. We marched to lunch. We marched to dinner.”
As luck would have it, when Beachy arrived on A&M’s College Station campus, the school had recently added a recreation-and-parks degree to its academic curricula. “I was maybe one of the worst students to ever go through A&M,” Beachy offers. “So after struggling with chemistry and biology in wildlife sciences, I decided to pursued my degree in recreation and parks.”
Upon graduation, Beachy entered the U.S. Army. He’s proud of his service to country, and his military experience helped him shape the city’s Veteran’s Park and Athletic Complex, including the Brazos Valley Veterans Memorial and its stunning set of monuments, memorials, and interpretive panels.
After fulfilling his military commitment and retiring from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant in 1972, Beachy and his wife Mary Alice, to whom Steve has been married for almost 50 years, returned to Texas to be closer to family. Beachy says he had hoped he might find a parks position in College Station, but instead, an opportunity presented itself in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
Steve and Mary Alice moved to Mission, Texas, in 1972, and he took over the parks and recreation program there.
“Neither one of us had ever been to that part of the state,” Beachy says. “At the time, Mission was a little town of about 13,000, and it was in one of the poorest counties in the country. I was paid $600 a month and my staff was made up of a couple of guys that the city’s public works department transferred to me.”
In time, Beachy had his small team doing big things.
Beachy’s job duties in Mission might have seemed menial to most. “I was out there pushing a mower, picking up trash, and building picnic tables,” he says. “But in time, we were able to develop new parks and some new programs.”
Steve and Mary Alice spent six years in Mission. Then the parks-director position in College Station opened and Beachy applied for the job.
“I interviewed with a panel of people,” Beachy recalls, “and one of them was one of my old college professors. Since I didn’t consider myself a very good student, I recall thinking, ‘Well, now the truth is going to come out, for sure.’
“Things went pretty good, though. Then the city manager tells me he has one more question. At that point, I thought, ‘Oh no, here it comes!’
“He said, ‘Steve, do you hunt and fish?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I do.’
“‘Well, I guess that makes you the man for our job. You’re hired.’
“Those were a little different times back then,” Beachy laughs.
To help make financial ends meet in Mission, Beachy joined the Army National Guard there. He remained in the Guard after moving back to College Station. Today, you’re likely to see Beachy wearing an “Army” cap or at least sporting an Army lapel pin of some kind.
He says the military experience made him a better parks director.
“Those first few years here in College Station were fun and exciting times,” Beachy recalls. “We got to plan the parks, find the land, develop them, and then create the programs we ran there.
When Beachy first took the job as director, the College Station Parks Department was located in what today is the Lincoln Recreational Center in W. A. Tarrow Park. The building was on the original campus of the A&M Consolidated Negro School.
Today the Lincoln Center anchors a park which includes an athletic complex, splash pad, and programs for youth, adults, and seniors. It’s a beacon for College Station’s African-American community, and its transformation is one of Beachy’s proudest accomplishments. But, when the parks department office was located there, the area was suffering from neglect and decay.
“Our office was in the home-economics building of the old Lincoln School,” Beachy says. “We didn’t have much space. The building was on a dirt street with no lights, and the parking lot was dirt, too.
“Any time it rained, we’d have to get a tractor to pull vehicles out of that parking lot.”
A decade later, Beachy’s department moved to its present location in Central Park. And, along with relocating offices and personnel, Beachy also moved the somewhat infamous sign he had placed outside his Lincoln Center confines.
It read, “College Station Parks and Recreation Department World Headquarters.”
That sign still marks the Parks & Recreation offices at Beachy Central Park.
“Lincoln Center wasn’t much, but it was all we had then,” Beachy says. “I figured no matter where you are in the world, this is our world headquarters.
“I’ve got a picture of that sign when it was at the Lincoln Center and in the shot, along with the staff, there was also a cow and a few dogs, as I recall.
“We’ve come a long way.”
In his retirement, Beachy remains active in the community. He’s still involved with several local boards and committees, remains active in the local American Legion post, and is available to lend a hand to whomever might need one.
It was a fitting gesture to name Central Park for him.
“I still drive down the road and see the sign and think, ‘I know that guy,’” Beachy says.
“I was very fortunate to work with so many incredible people: our staff, our grounds crews, our part-time rec folks. Everybody was a team.”
College Station is one of only 15 cities in Texas to gain accreditation from the National Recreation and Parks Association. It’s been named a Gold Level Member City by the Texas Amateur Athletic Federation and has been a “Tree City USA” honoree for nearly 30 years.
Of his success as College Station Parks & Recreation Director, Beachy gives almost all the credit to others.
“I used to say we didn’t have any superstars, but we had a super team. Everybody was committed to their job.
“Which is a good thing,” Beachy chuckles. “In my 30 years here, I never got a single promotion!”
He was the right man in the right job.
If only all of us could be so lucky.
Come to think of it, we are lucky that Steve Beachy cared so much about our community.