“With very little risk for argument, it can be said that the greatest wealth of a nation is its children. How they are raised and what is done for them today will pay off later in making the world a better place to live. Organized recreation is one of the best outlets for learning and life experience in the modern complicated world. The provision of an opportunity for self-expression, recognition and new experiences, through recreation, is a vital new government responsibility for the American City.”- James A. Peterson, Director of Recreation, Emporia, Kansas. First Emporia Recreation Commission Annual Report, 1954
Emporia Recreation Commission History
Emporia Recreation Commission was established in 1953. An ordinance was published in the Emporia Daily Gazette on May 21, 1953, which provided for the establishment, maintenance and conduct of a supervised recreation system and establishing a commission, which was empowered to administer the system. A majority of voters on Election Day, April 7, 1953, agreed to adopt the proposition to establish a supervised recreation system as provided in the Kansas Statutes under Article 19 of Chapter 12. By statute, members of the Recreation Commission consist of City of Emporia commissioners and USD #253 board members and appointees by each of those two entities. Revenues for recreation programs are derived from tax properties within the school district.
For 24 years, the recreation center was located at the corner of 5th and Merchant. Today, the facility is located on 4th street between State and Congress. The Emporia Recreation Commission has employed three directors since it was built in 1953. Jim Peterson served 8 years as the first director from 1953 to 1961. Then, Lee Beran served 38 years from 1961 to 1999 and Tom McEvoy from 1999 to present. In 2000, the building was renamed to the Lee Beran Recreation Center and Lee continued to dedicate his time to Emporia and the Recreation Field after his retirement until his passing in 2019.
Phases of Construction
1977 - Phase 1: Main Facility
The facility located at 313 W. 4th Avenue, known as Humbolt Park, began construction in December 1976 and was completed in August 1977. The facility included office space for the Recreation Commission Director, Secretary and Receptionist. A large social hall, kitchen and storage room along with a Game Room that included four pool tables, a table tennis table and pin ball machines was part of Phase I. A lighted concrete parking lot was built as well.
1983 - Phase 2: Indoor Pool & Racquetball Courts (Olive T. Jones Addition)
The Olive T. Jones phase included a Natatorium with a 25-yard, four-lane pool with a handicapped lift for handicapped access, a diving board, and starting blocks along with a separate viewing area. Two racquetball courts, office space, shower facilities, lockers, dressing areas, additional storage and restrooms were added plus a guest services area.
1993 - Phase 3: Gymnasium
A gymnasium with a regulation Basketball Court was completed with a divider curtain along with an office and a large Storage Room. The new addition was constructed with support beams that would allow the installation of an indoor walking track above the gymnasium.
1999 - Phase 4: Walking Track & Fitness Room
The Walking Track was constructed above the gymnasium with a length of 15 laps to a mile. The storage facility was improved with a drop ceiling and weight machines were purchased for the room. Additional space was utilized outside the storage room for cardio machines. Televisions were installed along with Cardio Theatre that gave users of the machines the ability to tune in channels and listen to the programs.
Grounds Maintenance History
1984 to present: Whittier Park at Whittier Street and 9th Avenue, Santa Fe Park on South Avenue and West Street
1984 to present: Peter Pan Park Ball Fields on South Congress Street, Soden’s Grove Ball Field at 1000 S Commercial Street
1992 to 2021: Trusler Sports Complex, located Northeast of Emporia on 18th Avenue
2000 to present: Skateboard and Bicycle Park located at South Avenue and West Street
2002 to Present: Jones Aquatic Center located Northwest of Emporia on 18th Avenue (across from DeBauge Family Sports Complex).
2011 to Present: DeBauge Family Sports Complex (formerly Twin Rivers Youth Soccer Association-TRYSA) located Northwest of Emporia on 18th Avenue (across from Jones Aquatic Center.)
In addition to programs housed in the Recreation Center, there are additional seasonal programs that occur on city-owned facilities located in the park system as well as in various school facilities under the direction of the school district.