After three decades, Mumford retires from Kent County

Keith Mumford takes great pride in the opening of the new Kent County Recreation Center in Dover. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

Keith Mumford takes great pride in the opening of the new Kent County Recreation Center in Dover. (Delaware State News/Andrew West)

DOVER — After 30 years, Keith Mumford has retired from Kent County.

His career started with organizing bus trips in an office in the old O’Brien building and ended with the opening of a long-desired recreation center.

The $10 million recreation center, the county’s first, opened Saturday.

“I just thought it would be a good time for them to hire whomever they wanted to take my place and let them move forward,” said Mr. Mumford on Thursday in an interview on one of the new blue courts of the recreation center. “I was fortunate enough to be part of this dream for the last 30 years, and working on this project for the last three years.”

From the Editor logo copy copyMr. Mumford has been director of Kent County Community Services for the past seven years, after stepping up from a role as director of Parks and Recreation. Community Services includes oversight of the parks, recreation and the county library system.

During his time with the county, he has been a part of the team that developed Brecknock Park in Camden, Browns Branch Park in Harrington and Big Oak Park in Smyrna.
Just a few years ago, he celebrated the county’s new library opening in Woodside.

Levy Court Commissioner Jody Sweeney was among the first to congratulate him on May 24 after Levy Court passed a resolution acknowledging his retirement.

“Keith, you’ve been with the county a long time,” said Commissioner Sweeney. “When you look at the accomplishments of the parks and rec department with the number of parks we’ve added, the ball fields we added, the dog park (Tidbury) and the new gymnasium, your accomplishments are long and we really appreciate what you’ve done for the county over these many years and wish you a lot of luck in the future.

After a round of farewell remarks from all of the commissioners, Kent County Levy Court President Brooks Banta prompted Mr. Mumford to take the microphone.

“This truly isn’t about me. It’s about working for Kent County, being a part of a great department, which is parks, recreations and libraries and serving the citizens of Kent County,” Mr. Mumford began.

“I don’t think anyone does anything for 30 years unless they’re making a lot of money or truly enjoy it …”

There was a slight pause.

“And, I’ve truly enjoyed it,” he said.

***

Mr. Mumford has been the director of Community Services for the past seven years, taking the role when Harry VanSant retired.

In 1986, it was Zach Carter that led the county parks and recreation department. Mr. Mumford jumped at the chance to join the staff, even if it was organizing women’s exercise classes and bus trips from a desk in the now-demolished Robert O’Brien Building on Water Street in Dover.

At the time, Mr. Mumford had been commuting from Dover to Mills­boro where he was working at the Masten lumber company.

“That was a good phone call that day,” said Mr. Mumford. “Zach said, ‘Why don’t you take two to three days to think about it?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t need to think about it.’”

Programs are the heart of what the recreation department has done for years, Mr. Mumford said.

He takes a lot of pride in the development of leagues and some big events such as Brecknock’s Fright Night.

Seeing things progress and change over the years, he makes a case for the need and potential of the recreation center.

For years, the county staff networked with schools and other places to run programs like a junior volleyball league that filled school gyms.

Unfortunately, school needs lessened the availability.

“The demands on the schools became too much,” he said. “It wasn’t that they didn’t want us there. They just didn’t have room for us.

“Some of those programs went away but now they’re going to come back.”

Mr. Mumford said the county did not have a study done to determine the needs of the community and how the recreation center, its new turf field and soon-to-be developed additional field space could best serve them.

The obvious part, though, was that people are looking for recreation and league opportunities.

“If you look at Brecknock Park on a daily basis, you’ll see the lacrosse teams and soccer teams that are out there, people with Little League and softball teams looking for places to practice,” he said. “When winter time comes, you know that the kids are still wanting to do something.”

During our interview Thursday, he pointed out the four basketball courts, the lines already in place for multiple volleyball and pickle ball courts and the screens that will divide the areas.

Pickle ball, the paddle-and-plastic ball game that resembles tennis, is now a rage with older athletes, The Delaware Senior Games have already arranged for use of the recreation center for a state tournament.

He said the center will be great for popular indoor field hockey, lacrosse, futsal and flag football leagues, too.

Registrations in parks and recreation programs have been about 10,000 in recent years, said Jeremy Sheppard, the county’s parks and recreation director. He said they envision the number quadrupling with the new rec center.

“I always thought it would happen,” Mr. Mumford said. “I just wasn’t sure when.”

***

Mr. Mumford, who lives in Dover, said he would not be a stranger around the county sports and recreation scene, and plans to continue officiating wrestling as he has done for decades.

He hopes to continue his involvement with the county as a Levy Court commissioner, having filed to run against Allan Angel for the District 3 seat. The two will meet in Democratic Party primary in September.

“I’m going to have time and I just think it’s a good way to keep giving back to the people in the community that have given a lot to me over the years,” he said.

There were a few laughs as the Levy Court commissioners passed the microphone around to offer some remarks on Mr. Mumford’s retirement.

“It’s good to vote to get you out of here,” joked Commissioner Eric Buckson.

“I’ve been involved in high school wrestling for 25 years,” Mr. Buckson noted. “And I have been ejected one time and he was the referee.”

Commissioner Terry Pepper noted it was odd that Mr. Mumford and he crossed paths in county government after years of not seeing each other. The two were in the same homerooms in first through sixth grades when they were in elementary school in Georgetown.

It was the Georgetown upbringing that exposed Mr. Mumford to sports and recreation and he recalled how what Little League and other opportunities meant to the community.

“People back then, that was all volunteer stuff,” he said.

Looking back, he reflected on how it impacted his career pursuits.

He said he has been fortunate to have a fun job and a great people on his team.

“Kent County has made great strides since 1986,” he said in his remarks at Levy Court last week. “I’d like to thank Levy Court for making those happen. I’m proud to have been a part of that and I hope the next 30 years are even better.”

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

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