Westerville Parks and Recreation Department director Jody Stowers will retire at the end of January 2009 after 12 years overseeing the city's efforts to keep its citizens healthy and happy.

Westerville Parks and Recreation Department director Jody Stowers will retire at the end of January 2009 after 12 years overseeing the city's efforts to keep its citizens healthy and happy.

Stowers announced her plans last week.

City manager David Collinsworth said Stowers' hard work has made Westerville a better place.

"Jody is a wonderful visionary, and she worked tirelessly throughout her tenure to make Westerville a better place to live and work," Collinsworth said. "With our parks and recreation department, the benefits are endless, and that in large measure is due to Jody's leadership and the overall commitment to excellence of our parks and recreation staff."

Stowers' legacy will be marked by strategic planning within the department.

According to information provided by community affairs coordinator Scott McAfee, Stowers began her tenure at the head of the department by leading the PROS (Parks, Recreation, and Open Spaces) 2000 campaign, a comprehensive strategic plan to guide the city's parks and recreation services into the 21st century.

Through this program, Stowers built the framework which led to the passage of PROS 2000 in 1998, paving the way for the Westerville Community Center, the preservation of the historic Everal Barn and Heritage Park, the creation of the Westerville Sports Complex and soccer fields, development of the bikeway and leisure path system, the development of new parks throughout the city and the continued expansion of existing parks and new sports fields, McAfee said.

Stowers said she's enjoyed working for Westerville, but it's time to move on.

"After 30 years in public service, it is time to end a chapter in my life and turn the page to a new one," Stowers said. "It has been a privilege serving the citizens of Westerville and working together toward enhancing everyone's life through parks and recreation services.

"Westerville is a very special place, due largely in part to its citizens, who understand what it takes to make a city a community," she said.

According to McAfee, major improvements to the city's recreation facilities were accomplished in 2001 with the completion of the Westerville Community Center and the dedication of the Westerville Sports Complex on Cleveland Avenue and the dedication of the Rotary Amphitheater at Alum Creek Park.

That same year, Westerville was awarded a gold medal for excellence in parks and recreation management, labeling it the best department of its size in the country.

lrice@thisweeknews.com