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City rec chief to call it quits after 30 years

Wiping the dirt from his work-hardened hands, Darrell Fry leans casually against the towering pin oak as he looks down at the new sapling he plans to plant.

Looking up at the massive tree in Beechwood Park in Ironton, the Ironton recreation director can't help but chuckle as the years roll back in his mind.

"I remember when we planted this tree when I first got started," said Fry, who has overseen the city's recreation offering for 30 years. "It has been amazing."

Just like the trees, the 52-year-old Fry has grown with the city. He started while still an Ohio University student and took the position that focuses on maintaining the city's parks and working with some of the recreational sports leagues. Now Fry will call it quits Friday when he works his last day, in what he believes will surely a bittersweet experience.

"This job has been very good to me. I have enjoyed it thoroughly for 30 years," he said. "It has had its ups and downs but I have met a lot of wonderful people and made a lot of good friends."

Over the years, Fry has seen the department shrink until he has become the only paid employee. Even while the city has struggled with financial problems, the recreation department has managed to carry on thanks to the generosity of voters.

The budget comes from a tax levy that Fry said voters have been kind enough to pass as long as he has been there and is still going through 2008. So the department does not cost the city a dime, he said.

"Ironton is truly fortunate, especially the children and the parents of the children, that we do have a levy," Fry said. "The public has been so supportive."

Fry has much to reflect on as his time winds down. He has spent years maintaining the city's parks and ball fields, operating the youth basketball league, youth cheerleading and working with the little leagues and youth football leagues.

It is the youth basketball program that Fry said he will miss most. He helped the program grow to include girls and third-grade students over the years.

Fry said he can remember as clear as yesterday when Brigham Waginger, Dennis Gagai and Marcus Williams played in the youth leagues. This year the led the Fighting Tigers to the verge of a state championship.

"The most enjoyable part of the whole program has been my closeness to the youth basketball program," he said. "During the winter months, that will be what I miss most."

But it is Fry who will be missed by many.

Paul and Marcia Schwede help Darrell out from time to time in his park-cleaning efforts. They are among the countless who are sad to see him go.

"We have loved working with this guy," Paul said with a smile. "We will really miss him when he retires."

But Fry won't just become a couch potato that sits and watches daytime TV. He plans on continuing to work outside near his home in Lake Forest and will probably find a little more time to hunt and fish.

"I am just and old country boy at heart. They say you can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy," Fry said with a chuckle. "Well, I wouldn't even try."

Thousands of Ironton youth are likely thankful for that.