Jeffersontown Director of Parks & Recreation Talks Passion For Community & Upcoming Programs

Writer: Lisette Vimont

We are fortunate, here in Jeffersontown, to have a truly dedicated Director of Parks and Recreation. Her name is Debbie Ruckriegel Hendrick and her love of community is a family trait.

Daniel Ruckriegel, her father, was mayor of Jeffersontown for 20 years, and Debbie has been director of parks for seven. She has an extremely active family and community life, and her two sons are also following in their mother’s and grandfather’s path. Debbie is proud of their participation in community events, and they are equally proud of their mom.

A great source of pride is her marketing degree that Debbie earned at the University of Louisville, which has proven to serve her well. In addition to Debbie’s familiarity with political issues and family concerns, her 15 years of experience as manager and retail sales coach at Stock Yards Bank gave much insight and confidence to work for and with the public and developed a healthy, optimistic attitude. So when Mayor Bill Dieruf was elected eight years ago, Debbie requested an interview. The mayor had a new position to fill which she initially thought would be completely outside of her normal working knowledge and capability. However, Debbie decided to accept the position with a determination to learn and to do her very best.

Debbie had great talent for planning, coordinating and implementing events, facilities and programs in the past, so it was a natural fit.

“You put your city first and that’s what I try to do with everything I do,” Debbie says. “That’s what I keep in mind.”

With a deep sense of pride in Jeffersontown, along with a remarkable work ethic and plenty of talent, Debbie has excelled in her role as Director of Parks and Recreation.

“You know, we always laugh because your family comes first,” she says. “But Jeffersontown is very near and dear to my heart so it is a part of my family.”

Her responsibilities, being in charge of all facilities, include the Jeffersonian big wedding facility, Skyview Baseball Park and Football Complex, Plainview Swim Center and Blue Bird Gym. She also puts on four or five events throughout the year — Easter Fest, Summer Fest, Pumpkin Fest and Light Up Jeffersontown. She works year-round to organize events, locate viable resources and gain support from volunteers and sponsors in the local community.

“Whether you’re a resident, work here or are just visiting, we have a variety of institutions that are sure to have a bit of something for everyone,” Debbie adds.

She organizes and facilitates these recreational programs held at Jeffersontown’s parks, directing the operations of activities and services. There are many other resources available to the general public, including, but not limited to, the aforementioned facilities, hiking trails, playgrounds, splash parks, sports teams and holiday events. All of these services promote locals to get involved in free or low-cost family recreations and fitness-oriented groups to help improve overall quality of life. The Parks and Recreations Department offers multiple recreational facilities, a variety of public as well as private parks, bike paths and 11 sports leagues that accommodate both children and adults.

Debbie has two sons who’ve grown up volunteering and working at her various events and they have brought friends to help.

“Volunteers are always welcome, they help make these events possible,” she says.

She is enthusiastic, personable and enjoys the fun of it all but realizes it is a huge responsibility that needs much effort and many hands to carry out.

One of Jeffersontown’s most favored places, Veteran’s Park, is undergoing a $3M renovation. Debbie assured that when it reopens in late Summer or early Fall, it will be better than ever. The park will incorporate a brand new, handicap-accessible playground designed to accommodate wheelchairs and provide for children of varying capabilities.

“We want to be all-inclusive and encourage everyone to participate in shared opportunities for safe, fun, outdoor play sport and exercise,” she says.

The park will also feature a new commemorative wall in honor of our nation’s heroes.

If you’re looking for a low-cost night out with friends or family, Summer Fest is a wonderful event held annually and is free to the public. Refreshments such as hot dogs and bottled water are given to anyone who shows up until they run out. There is a kid zone with inflatable, bounce-houses and face-painting. There is a disc jockey who plays upbeat tunes to set the tone for the evening, too.

Following shortly after, a film is projected on to the big screen for all to enjoy. The last event was on June 1st and people joined together to watch “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” Following the movie each year, at approximately 10:45 pm, there is a 10-minute fireworks display, which is an awesome sight to behold. This is the sixth year for this and it brings in at least a couple thousand people regularly. It is a great way to share the joy, laughter and fun of just being together in Jeffersontown.

Another bright spot to the summer is Plainview Swim Center Pool, which opened a week early this year on the last Saturday before Memorial Day. It typically closes after Labor Day, on September 23, depending on the weather. There is a swim team and it is a public pool which resembles a private club with many fine amenities. Plainview Pool is quite popular and is open to all. Cost-efficient season passes are available for patrons who frequent the park more regularly.

Debbie described herself as a “sports mom”, noting that her hobbies rotate around her two sons’ sports schedules.

“I enjoy going to the games with my kids and supporting our local school,” she says. “My 16-year-old plays football for Trinity, and we go wherever he plays. My youngest plays competitive baseball for J-town and is on a strike team as well. We’ve traveled all over to watch our boys play. I always say that one day my kids won’t be little and I won’t be able to do this kind of stuff with them so it’s important to start now.”

Debbie encourages other Jeffersontown residents to get their children involved with sports programs at Sky View Park. Last year there were approximately 250 boys and girls involved in cheerleading, football and baseball programs. For more information on these programs and facilities, visit jeffersontownky.com.