Patrice Thorell, right, helping local Artist George C. Scott with his new ‘Marinascope.’

By Scott Schaefer

Patrice Thorell, who retired as the Director of Parks, Recreation and Senior Services in 2018, is leaving a legacy for the City of Des Moines, after serving it for 23 years.

She will be honored in Vancouver WA on April 11 with the well-deserved 2019 Distinguished Service Award from the Washington Recreation & Park Association (WRPA).

Patrice has had an influence not only on Des Moines Parks & Rec, but also local Arts, the Des Moines Legacy Foundation, school programs, childcare, children’s health & wellness, Senior Services, sports programs, Des Moines Farmer’s Market, the Fireworks Show and countless other projects that benefit the citizens of this community at every age.

“Patrice Thorell exemplifies the trait of a Respected Leader,” Tony Hettler told The Waterland Blog. “She has been recognized for her accomplishments as a Director of Parks and Recreation in Des Moines by local, county, regional and State organizations. She is a dedicated servant leader who has mentored numerous young professionals who have carved out successful careers in the Parks & Rec field.”

Patrice has been called an inspired innovator, is widely respected, and has been a local superstar in the Parks and Rec Profession.

Before settling down in Des Moines, Patrice worked in Kent as the Cultural Arts Superintendent. Before that she was the Arts & Recreation Coordinator for Kirkland Parks and Rec.

Throughout her professional career, she has sought innovative solutions to community challenges, and has demonstrated boundless energy and a true passion for the community.

She was the first Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Director hired by Des Moines in 1994, shortly after the city inherited King County’s aging parks and facilities. Before Patrice, there were very few recreation programs for youth and families in the city.

“During my 23-year career with the City of Des Moines as its Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Director, I have had the great pleasure of working with extraordinary citizens, volunteers, staff, civic groups, private and public organizations, businesses and government to further these community services,” Patrice told The Waterland Blog.

In that role, she was the moving force behind the renovation of Des Moines Beach Park, the development of the Steven J. Underwood Memorial Park, and she also secured financial resources for the purchase of the undeveloped Van Gaskin property.

She is also known for creativity and extraordinary skills in Special Event planning, and one of her signature events was the annual Canterbury Faire, which has been held every summer for over 20 years.

Patrice was also instrumental in the implementation of the Play for All multi generation program/park offered in Des Monies.

“She put her heart and soul into our profession, and shared her passions with those around her!” her friend Sue Padden said.

Recent events in Des Moines haven’t been all good for Patrice (and others), as in 2018 the city opened an investigation into – and severed its relationship with – the Des Moines Legacy Foundation.

“It is absolutely appalling to me that the City Manager and current City Council have chosen to lambast her and give her no recognition for the many, many projects, grants, and programs she and her department created during her tenure,” Sue Padden told The Waterland Blog.

Patrice shared the following statement about this issue with The Waterland Blog in Nov., 2018:

“For the entirety of my career with the City I and other City Directors had the full encouragement and support of prior City Managers and City Councils to become involved with and active in community organizations including Rotary, the Chamber of Commerce, the Legacy Foundation and others. This is reflected in the Investigative Report which acknowledged that in 2002 City Manager Piasecki specifically authorized myself and Sue Padden to serve on the Legacy Foundation Board.

“All of my service to the City and the Legacy Foundation reflect an honest and open attempt to do the best for our community and were done with the full knowledge and authorization of prior City Mangers and City Councils. The report does not indicate or suggest that either myself or Sue Padden received any personal gain or benefit and in fact, we both spent countless hours of our personal time to make the Legacy Foundation successful.

“I am proud of my service to the community and I am proud that my actions have helped to generate substantially funding for children, senior services and the arts that the City could not have provided on its own. The current administration has the authority to change that tradition and disallow this practice as it sees fit. However, it can not change past practices after the fact by vilifying those that had administration approval to serve the community prior to recent changes to administrative policy.”

What is Patrice most proud of after 23 years?

“I am most proud of how the citizens have engaged with the City’s programs and of their passion to serve Des Moines on its Parks, Recreation, and Senior Services Master Plan Citizens Advisory Committees, Human Services Advisory Committee, Senior Services Advisory Committee, Arts Commission, Landmarks Commission and Lodging Tax Advisory Committee,” she said. “The Department’s programs are led by hundreds of Youth Sports Coaches, Senior Services volunteers, Friends of Des Moines Creek, Friends of Sonju Garden, Park Adopt-A-Spot and Earth Day groups that have made a tremendous impact through their contribution of more than 13,000 hours of their time that equals 6 full time staff positions annually.”

Some of the other many accomplishments of her legacy to the community include:

  • In 1999, Legacy’s first fundraising activity at Anthony’s Homeport was the beginning of the Foundation’s 20-year relationship with Anthony’s as the sponsor of the annual Bayside Brunch fundraiser.
  • In 2000, a plant sale of reclaimed plants from Port of Settle Buy-out property was held to create a Parks Fund to replace deteriorating City landscaping, drinking fountains, picnic tables, and memorial benches located along Marine View Drive S. and in downtown City Parks. Memorial Benches, the brain child of Earline Byers and the Des Moines Chamber of Commerce, had been purchased in the 1980’s and needed to be replaced. New benches, made of recycled plastic, were installed throughout the community due to the generosity of citizens and community groups
  • In 2001, the Senior Center, then located in the Beach Park Founders Lodge and Dining Hall, was closed due to damage caused by creek flooding and the Nisqually earthquake. The Foundation received Council authorization through ordinance 01-173 to launch a citizen voted bond initiative to purchase property to build a new senior facility. Unfortunately, the bond didn’t pass, however, the City received a CDBG loan and along with community fundraising, the current Senior Activity Center was purchased and renovated.
  • In 2001-2017, Legacy provided funds o the City for the free Summer Concerts held at Beach Park and Wooton Park.
  • In 2001-2014, Legacy served as the community fundraising conduit for Fireworks Over Des Moines with the ongoing support of the Rotary Club, Powell Homes, Destination Des Moines and the City.
  • In 2003, Legacy and its donors funded the Des Moines Senior Activity Center wood floors, the commercial kitchen and appliances and building’s furnishings. The exterior patio, water feature, patio furnishings and Mary’s Garden were added in 2006 along with the construction of building storage.
  • The first phase of Steven J. Underwood Memorial Park was opened. Legacy led the community initiative to build the large paver plaza that connects the ballfields, Underwood Memorial and restrooms in partnership with Starbucks’ Park Program, the Des Moines Police Guild and the Rotary Club.
  • In 2005, Legacy promoted the re-establishment of the Arts Commission, the creation of Destination Des Moines and a Farmers Market. Parks, Recreation and Senior Services Department initiated citizen steering committees to help with the framing, goals and policies for these new entities.
  • In 2006, Farming in the Environment partnered with the City to launch the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers Market at the South Marina Park parking lot.
  • In 2007, the Arts Commission was approved by City Council. Legacy Foundation Board Member Clark Snure was appointed to the Arts Commission. Also, in 2007, Legacy Board Member Leslie Newman was elected as the President of Destination Des Moines.
  • In 2008, Legacy Board Member Wayne Corey helped to establish “Elder Watch”, volunteers that worked in collaboration with multiple human service agencies to help vulnerable seniors maintain a safe and secure lifestyle.
  • In 2009, Legacy funds provided a financial guarantee to support the Farmers Market overhead during a one-year transition period to ensure its continued operation. Legacy also funded the Des Moines 50th Birthday Community Concerts, and a computer lab at Wesley Gardens.
  • In 2010, Legacy funds commissioned the “Honoring Aging” mural that is located on S. 219th Street; purchased a 14 Passenger Bus to transport seniors and youth to City programs; and established a fund to support the Daisy Sonju Community Garden, to install raised beds, benches, and Georgie’s Greenhouse led by Legacy Board Member and volunteer steward Kim Richmond.
  • The Legacy Foundation also served as the conduit for the first Poverty Bay Arts Festival created by the Arts Commission, Highline College Student’s Union and Destination Des Moines to promote the arts and create economic development activities in the downtown businesses.
  • Between 2010-today, Legacy has funded free summer-long youth programs and community events at Midway Park in collaboration with the Des Moines Food Bank and other community organizations. Legacy was honored to be the beneficiary of $79,000 from the Phyllis Moore Estate.
  • In 2011, Legacy supported the City’s Levy Lid Lift for City Streets and Beach Park Historic Buildings repairs.
  • In 2013, Legacy funded the Art on Poverty Bay outdoor sculpture gallery, raising funds for concrete plinths for the temporary sculptures. In 2014, Legacy purchased “A Gentle Nudge” donated by the Snure Family and “Yakutat” bronze seal pup sculpture located along the Marina promenade.
  • In 2014, Legacy contributed a $16,000 match with a grant from Puget Sound Energy Foundation to fund the Des Moines Senior Activity Center Electronic Reader board.
  • In 2015, Legacy purchased the “Tree of Life” sculpture located at the Des Moines Senior Activity Center, and in collaboration with the City, implemented the Waterland Adventure/’tothebeach” project funded by a Seattle Southside Tourism grant.
  • In 2016, Legacy asked the City Council to partner to renovate, replace and build new play areas citywide. The “No Kids Left Inside” initiative has raised over $150,000 for play areas of which $75,000 is under contract with the City of Des Moines to provide matching funds to support a King County grant for a Play for All ADA inclusive play area at Steven J Underwood Park and a grant to replace the Field House Park play area.
  • Legacy provided funds to stabilize the Meals on Wheels and Senior Shuttle programs when agency budget cuts threatened their services to vulnerable Des Moines and Normandy Park senior adults.
  • $33,000 funds were contributed to Legacy by the Adriana Senior Apartments to support Des Moines community senior services.
  • In 2017, Legacy and 4culture funded a heritage project to replace the Carmen Scott Beach Park Heritage Trail Signage project. This project is underway.
  • $31,000 in funds were contributed by the Waterfront Crossing Development to support Legacy’s community services. Funds were earmarked for the No Kids Left Inside Play Area initiative, if needed.
  • In 2017-2018, Legacy received a Port of Seattle ACE grant and commissioned artist George C. Scott to create the “Marinascope” sculpture located at South Marina Park, honoring Legacy Board members Carmen Scott and Nancy Stephan. The City installed the sculpture at the site in December.
  • In 2018, Legacy Foundation paid the $5,000 start-up costs to establish the “Parkrun” free 5K events run by a volunteer group on Des Moines Creek Trail every Saturday at 9 a.m.
  • Legacy also funded the outdoor movie screen and projection equipment for the City’s free Movies in the Park family recreation activity.
  • Legacy funds have supported ongoing youth and senior scholarships for low income participants, Seniors Making Art and Dance for Parkinsons, Defibulators for PRSS buildings, Medical lending equipment, Emergency preparedness equipment, fresh fruits and vegetables for Meals on Wheel recipients.
  • This year, Legacy funded a grant to Grace in Action for wheelchair ramps and access for seniors, and has provided ongoing support for Medical Teams International Dental Van for free dental treatments for low income seniors. Legacy also responded to the Des Moines Area Food Bank’s request for an undercounter refrigerator to replace its failing unit. Legacy will also fund recreation scholarships for Des Moines low income youth.
  • Legacy provides the conduit, as feasible, for worthy outside agencies that support of community recreation opportunities for youth such as the Three Tree Point Yacht Club’s Sailing Scholarships, Mt. Rainier Pool Scholarships and Reach Out Des Moines programs at Midway Park.
  • The Des Moines Beach Park Event Center facility rentals, youth sports programs- soccer, softball, basketball, and Camp Khaos and Club Khaos before and after school programs. “In my opinion, we have the highest quality and best managed youth programs and rental facilities in South King County,” she said.
  • Senior Services has developed and maintained many long time partnerships with agencies such as Catholic Community Services for its nutrition (lunch program) SeaMar (Latino programs) and Sound Generations (Hyde Shuttle and Meals on Wheels). These programs are leaders in the industry.