Last night I attended a grand event. It was a retirement party for two of Des Moines finest gals, Sue Padden and Patrice Thorell. For twenty-plus years, these two forces of nature led the City’s Senior Services and Park and Recreation departments, respectively. They did much more than that, though.
Hearing some kind words from their staff and other community members reminded me of their contributions and their uniquely powerful spirits, which have served our town for so many years. Having known them for most, if not all, of their tenure, I have witnessed their strength and grace and passion and commitment. And I am proud to know them.
The event was well-attended with lots of love and laughter. Seeing old friends and sharing stories was nice, and the ribs were good, too. And, while many folks said good things honoring these ladies’ service, I was more aware of what wasn’t said and who wasn’t represented…all of the kids and families and seniors these women battled for, and cried for, and cared about- all of the beneficiaries of their efforts.
It is not an exaggeration to say that nearly every single kid/family living in Des Moines has been touched by their work. Sue infected countless people with her contagious energy and laugh at the Senior Center. She brought humor and heart and love to everyone entering the building. She shared joy and loss and meals and hugs with people who needed them. Her legacy is written in the smiles and tears of those she served, every day, for many years. She made lives better. She made the community better, and it is changed forever because of her.
I worked for the Parks department for most of the 90’s under Patrice’s directorship. They were some of my best times. Patrice was a powerful leader with an unmatched commitment to service. She knew that Park and Rec programs were important and she fought for them. These programs represent the heartbeat of a community. Access to sports and dance and art for kids of all ages and backgrounds is the bedrock foundation of what defines a community. People gathered for games and performances and met each other and connected, and kids grew up better because of her efforts. This is her legacy, as these programs would not have survived without her fighting for them. She fought for our kids’ right to play and perform and learn and grow. I have seen her tears of frustration and tears of joy at having survived another budget cycle. She used her creative mind to find funding when there wasn’t any. She found grant monies, and helped create the Legacy Foundation to ensure that these programs would be available. The fond recollections of my baby-toothed kids playing mini-kickers soccer and my son’s brief, but memorable, foray into the martial arts, cement my assertion that these things matter and few things matter more. For this, I say “thank you”, on behalf of myself and kids…and the thousands of other kids and families enjoying these fond memories and whose life journeys began on a muddy field or in the cool, old Fieldhouse gymnasium. Your work mattered, and you mattered, and your community is grateful. Thank you.
So…as these two gals head off into the sunset, appropriately on Waterland Parade Saturday, they will be riding in a gold Thunderbird, cruising the length of Marine View Drive through the heart of our town as “Thelma and Louise”, I encourage parade watchers to clap extra hard as they pass by. Chances are they made your life a little better and I can think of no finer legacy. And, it’s theirs…
[EDITOR’S NOTE:”Feel Good Friday” is a regular column written by Des Moines resident Dave Markwell, whose first book is called “A Feel Good Life” (buy it on Amazon here). He also runs the Waterland Arcade, located at 22306 Marine View Drive South. Dave extols to all neighbors: “Enjoy where we live. Put your feet on the pavement and truly feel how great it is to live here!” Also, Dave desperately needs more friends – find him on Facebook here.