Spotlight on Dan Johnson of Valpo Parks

Spotlight on Dan Johnson of Valpo Parks

As someone who’s been a part of the Valpo Parks Department for 37 years, Dan Johnson can tell you that a lot has changed since he first started working in the parks.

“I look back at how things were when I first started here…I mean, there was no type of ground cover on our playground,” Johnson said. “Some of the playgrounds were like homemade stuff compared to what we’ve got now. What I’ve seen change throughout the years is unbelievable, how much better it’s gotten.”

Johnson is Maintenance Director of Valpo Parks, and he prides himself on keeping the parks in tip top shape for community members. When asked what his favorite part of the job is, Johnson laughed, agreeing that the question was a loaded one. He said it came down to making sure park goers enjoyed themselves.

“When you hear someone say how nice the parks are, when people say, ‘You guys have done such a nice job…’ It’s great to hear that,” Johnson said. “Everything we do can be really hard work, but we do it anyway, firstly because it has to be done, but mostly we do it for the people. I just enjoy it; I look out and see the families together and the kids playing ball, and that wouldn’t be possible unless we did it.”

In the summer months, Johnson has the help of a handful of college students on break from school. Most of them had just departed for college by the time of this interview.

“This year we had a very good group,” Johnson said. “You know, we work seven days a week. And they helped us out a lot. They helped us set grass, helped us do a lot of setups…they’re just not here long enough!”

Johnson has his work cut out for him without his helping hands, but he’s always up to the challenge. His strong sense of work ethic and good-natured demeanor, combined with his love for the outdoors, are part of what make him so vital in his role.

“I started working here during my summers in high school—I’m not even including that time in the amount of years I’ve been here,” Johnson laughed. “I enjoyed working outdoors, and I did something different every day. Once you see people using the parks and you really like it, you just keep coming back, and that’s what I did. After high school I went to college for one semester and said, ‘Ope! This isn’t for me!’ and I came back here and there was a job opening. I’ve been here ever since, and I love it.”

Johnson has seen a huge transformation in his time with Valpo Parks, beyond just the playground equipment.

“It was grunt labor back then, and it’s not nearly as much grunt labor as it used to be,” Johnson said. “It’s better for the younger, newer people that come in [to work here.] And John [Seibert, Executive Director of Valpo Parks] is a firm believer that if you need a tool to do your job, let’s get it.”

A perfect example of the ways the parks department has changed for the betterment of both employees and community citizens is the ice rink in Urschel Pavilion.

“You look at this beautiful ice rink we’ve got, we used to go out and spray the ice after midnight when it was 15 below zero so that people could skate,” Johnson said. “And now here we are making ice at 35 degrees. It’s incredible!”

When he has the chance to travel, Johnson always tries to visit parks.

“I visit a lot of parks when I travel to other cities, I’m just attracted to that, and I’ve seen some beautiful parks in big cities and little cities,” Johnson said. “But I can confidently say that we have great parks here in Valpo. The people are good here. It’s just a wonderful place.”

Johnson also loves spending time with his family, who seem to have the same measure of devotion and care in all that they do as Johnson does.

“I do a lot for my family, whatever I can; my father is elderly, my mother is in a nursing home, I’ve got two grown-up big kids, and I’m thankful for all of that,” Johnson said. “My wife makes dinners for my father three times a week. She gets them ready and takes them to him throughout the week. He’ll be 86 this year. He tries to go see my mother every day if he can. He loves spending time with the grandkids, too.”

Speaking of the grandchildren, Johnson is thrilled that both of his children are living lives as enriched with love as his own.

“My son got married last year, and, actually, I’m going to Indy tomorrow because my daughter is getting engaged,” Johnson said. “It’s a surprise! She has no idea! She has a bunch of friends showing up. His family will be there, my wife and son and I will be there. I have no idea what’s planned, but it’ll be fun, I know that. He’s a really good guy!”

Hopefully the engagement went off without a hitch and we’re not letting the cat out of the bag too soon! Johnson’s voice was too full of excitement not to share the news. Next time you visit one of the Valpo Parks, send warm thoughts Johnson’s way.