Jimmy Harris spent the soggy afternoon Wednesday cooped up in his shop behind the Zebulon Community Center, looking through piles of work logs and other items he has kept over the years.
He was preparing to vacate the space Thursday, his final day as park maintenance superintendent, marking the end of a 22-year run with the town’s parks and recreation department.
“When I came here, I think we had a hammer and a screwdriver,” Harris said as he walked through the shop that now has everything from Gators to sprayers and is neat as a pin, despite him calling out ways it could be even more tidy.
The 76-year-old is retiring – for a second time – to spend more time with family, among other things.
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“We’re not guaranteed any time on this earth,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to do some other things I’d like to do, spend some time at the beach or in the mountains and with grandchildren. I’m not tired of (the superintendent job), it’s just time to divert to other things.”
Harris has been in charge of taking care of Zebulon’s parks system and supervising the park maintenance staff.
His responsibilities included mowing, dragging and lining athletic fields, and keeping the facilities clean – things one might imagine a superintendent would do. He’s also done a lot of things that people don’t think about when they visit one of the town’s six parks.
“I’ve been dreading this day just thinking about it for years that he would retire while I was still working,” said Zebulon Parks and Recreation Director Greg Johnson. “He’s built towers, dugouts, installed drainage systems. He makes sure those parks are in prime condition every single day, and the quality of those parks are directly attributable to him. I’m going to miss what he does and just being around him every day, too.”
Harris has been involved in local athletics ever since moving to Zebulon in 1967 from Scotland County, where he began his first career as a 30-year educator and coach.
He taught and coached boys basketball at Wakelon High School in its final three years and then moved on to work one year at Zebulon High. It was his early years in Zebulon that he was appointed to serve on a reactivated parks and recreation advisory commission alongside Dale Beck, W.G. Griswold and Barbara Roberson.
About 10 years later, Harris said, Zebulon hired a full-time parks and recreation director and that was the spark that led to formation of the department that exists today.
“As (the commission) became more visible in town, the town board starting supporting us and that’s how we got a director,” Harris recalled. “We had to do it. If we didn’t have recreation in this town, we had to do it.”
Post-Zebulon High, Harris left teaching for nine months to work as editor-in-training at the Gold Leaf Publishers’ Western Wake Herald, but he wanted to get back into the classroom.
He finished his final 21 years in education teaching health and social studies and coaching several sports at Wake Forest-Rolesville High before coming on part time with Zebulon Parks and Recreation in the fall of 1993. Two years later, he took the full-time role he kept until last week.
Teacher of health
Johnson said Harris, who he hired, remained an educator despite retiring that title decades ago.
“He’s one of the friendliest people you’ll meet and he’s a teacher through and through,” Johnson said. “I was young – probably 30 years old – when I hired him and that’s something that will never leave me. I’ve learned so much from him.”
Harris has worn a lot of hats in the local recreation scene, whether as the maintainer of parks and array of park equipment, volunteer coach, referee, umpire or adult-league competitor.
He thinks his best contribution is simply being part of a department that has formed quality facilities and services over the years. His biggest thrill has been interacting with local residents and letting them know what the department has to offer.
“Recreation is very important to all of us, young and old,” Harris said. “The physical part, the mental part, how it plays such an important part in keeping fit and occupied, the fellowship and sportsmanship and teamwork that comes with it. There’s so much you can’t not like it.”