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Rec & Parks Director to Retire After 40-Year Career

hermanIn 1965, a young Howard Herman signed up to play basketball at the Falls Church Community Center in a Recreation and Parks league. Little did he know that the community center would become his second home.

herman

Howard Herman can be seen at Falls Church’s Saturday morning farmers’ market, a program which he was instrumental in starting during his 40-year career with the Recreation and Parks Department. (Photo: Barbara Gordon)

In 1965, a young Howard Herman signed up to play basketball at the Falls Church Community Center in a Recreation and Parks league. Little did he know that the community center would become his second home.

Herman will be retiring April 1 at the end of a 40-year career with the Recreation and Parks Department of the City of Falls Church, having served for 21 years as its director.

But Herman’s interests didn’t always lie in municipal work. Herman thought he might follow in his father’s footsteps in the restaurant business. His father had moved up the ranks to become the president of a restaurant chain.

“My parents taught me a sense of pride in the job that you do, and making sure that what you do, you do well, and you give it your best,” Herman said. “My dad was a pretty hard-working, dedicated guy, and it paid off for him in terms of his career.”

The advancements in his father’s career saw his family move many times across the nation. Herman, born in 1954 in Denver, Colorado, had lived in 12 different houses in the first 12 years of his life. It wasn’t until his move to Falls Church in 1965 that he was able to put down roots.

Herman enjoyed some of the recreation programs offered by the city as a participant, and eventually began working at the community center as a custodian in 1970. From there, he started managing a Saturday roller skating clinic and teaching some of the clinics the center provided. As a George Mason High School student, Herman played for five years for the school’s basketball team and brought his skills to the community center by coaching basketball teams.

Upon graduating from high school, Herman had plans to play basketball for George Mason University, but decided to take a break from the sport, marrying his high school sweetheart and continuing his work at the community center. Soon after, he was promoted to recreation leader, and the City paid for his schooling at Northern Virginia Community College.

“I just got the bug for the Rec and Parks thing,” Herman said. “And Ken Burnett, the director here for 28 years, was supportive of my career and my efforts to move up, so I went from being a rec leader to a rec program supervisor.”

In 1988, Herman became the assistant director of the department, and was named director in 1990. In 2007, Herman was named general manager of the Community Services Department, taking on the additional responsibility of overseeing the library, court services, and housing and human services.

In his time working with and leading the Recreation and Parks Department, Herman has been involved in a number of projects that shaped the way the City looks today. Herman considers his first major project to be the renovation of the community center, which began in 2000 and was finished in 2001.

“The community center went from being a pretty institutional-looking building to being much more open and inviting, and also larger,” Herman said.

He’s also played a part in improving the City’s recreational facilities through joint work with Fairfax County on the Larry Graves Park on Hillwood Avenue, and renovating athletic fields at Madison Park, Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and George Mason High School. One of the renovation projects he’s particularly proud of is adding synthetic turf to the fields at George Mason High School.

“At one point in time, the stadium field was getting used about 30 times a year,” Herman said. “Now that turf gets used 50 times a week, maybe more. We took a field that almost never got used, and now it is used all the time, rain or shine. More importantly, by putting the synthetic turf up there, we got community use of the field.”

Herman said that the facilities at the schools are a great asset to the Falls Church community.

“The school sites are not just school sites, they’re community sites, so we’re really lucky here in the City in that these fields are all shared. In addition to that, the gyms are all shared,” Herman said. “At the end of the day, in a city of 12,000 citizens, we’ve got five gyms, and that’s just wonderful. It provides great opportunities for the kids and the adults in the community. I don’t think it’s an accident that the George Mason kids are doing so well. They’ve got great facilities.”

Herman’s impact can also be felt in Falls Church’s weekly farmers’ market.

Herman, an avid gardener in his spare time, said the idea to begin the market was circulating in the early 1980s, and after getting the OK from Burnett and the city manager, he began consulting with Fairfax County and Arlington County, who had established farmers’ markets, to find a way to bring the idea home to Falls Church.

While the market won the medium-sized market category in the country for the 2010 America’s Favorite Farmers Markets contest, it didn’t celebrate this success early on.

“The first three or four years, I’d go out and say ‘Geez, this is horrible,'” Herman said. They began with about 100 customers and 10 vendors each Saturday, and that number dropped after the first year. Through an aggressive marketing campaign that featured farmers’ market hats, T-shirts, bags and banners, the word finally got out.

“We really made a concerted effort to diversify what was available at the market. We brought in meat, eggs, milk and ice cream,” Herman said. “The thing that’s really pushed it over the top is the diversification. It’s made it the best market in Northern Virginia. Someone said to me, ‘You can come here and do all of your shopping for the week, you don’t need to go to a grocery store.'”

All of his work tells the story of a career spent working to improve Falls Church.

“At the end of the day, the thing that I’m proudest of is that I helped make this a better place to live,” Herman said. “I feel like, if I’ve got a legacy here, then my legacy is going to be that.”

Upon Herman’s April 1 retirement, Deputy Director of the Falls Church Recreation and Parks Department Daniel Schlitt will assume the director post.

“I’m thrilled that Danny is going to step into the position,” Herman said. “He has worked here for 20 years, and he gets the most important part about what we’re doing here, which is making Falls Church a better place to live. The community is lucky that they are going to get somebody that’s committed to the City.”

Herman said his retirement will be a bittersweet occasion.

“It’s going to be very hard for me,” Herman said. “For 40 years, I’ve walked into this building every morning. I’ve probably spent more time in the community center than I’ve spent in my home.”

For Herman – who is the father of two young children with his second wife, and soon-to-be grandfather of three with the upcoming birth of his twin grandchildren – retirement means more time to spend with his family.

In particular, Herman is looking forward to walking his children – Nathan, 5, and Cassie, 8 – to and from school.

Herman is also looking forward to Memorial Day, where this year he will be able to enjoy the festivities as the grand marshal instead of spearheading the planning committee.

“I won’t be coming having to worry about if the tables have been delivered to the booth or whether enough chairs are out for the band, but I’ll be here, because this is just a cool place to be on Memorial Day,” Herman said.

But on July 4th, Herman will have to leave one of his beloved Falls Church traditions behind.

“I’ve been at 39 of the last 40 fireworks shows, and I’m not going to be there this year,” Herman said, explaining that his wife’s position with the City of Fairfax means the family will be celebrating there. “That’s going to feel very strange to me. I’ll almost feel like I’m a traitor.”

But Independence Day aside, Herman plans to stay very involved in the community that he has come to know and love during his years of service to the City.

“This was a great place to grow up, this was a great place to go to school, and this has been a great place to work. Falls Church has been wonderful to me and I would say I’m going to miss it dearly, but I’m still going to be part of Falls Church,” Herman said. “This has just been a wonderful opportunity for me, and it’s been a great run. I love the City. I’ve loved every part of it.”