Taylor Six/The Register

Members of the parks board pose for a photo with Joe Bentley, who retired from the parks department after 37 years as an employee. From left to right: Gary Ford, Kathy Holmes, Joe Bentley, Jon McChesney, Dan McBride, Emmitt Igo and Kathy Palmer. 

In quoting a Grateful Dead song, outgoing Director of Richmond Parks, Building and Grounds Joe Bentley said it has been a "long, strange journey" in his 37 years working with the city's parks department.

In his nearly four decades with the department, Bentley has indeed done some strange things having drug 25,000 baseball fields, dressed as Santa and the Easter bunny 15 times each, fished a Porta-Potty out of Lake Reba and removed two snapping turtles from the Adventure Falls Mini Golf Course pond.

"There were things like that that happened all the time," he said. "Things that you wouldn't normally be exposed to."

And while his retirement was approved by the Richmond City Commission in early November, Bentley said he is already missing it.

"I do more than I should probably," he said. "But I don't feel like I am quite ready to hang it up yet."

His long, strange journey with parks began while he was attending Eastern Kentucky University for his degree in Parks and Rec Administration while simultaneously working as a seasonal employee.

After college, he said, parks is all he has done for employment, and he wore many hats over the years. First he was a softball coordinator, then athletic director, assistant director and finally becoming director of parks, building and grounds eight years ago during department shifts.

As director, Bentley said his duties consisted of maintaining ball park grounds and facilities, including ball fields and mowing about 100 acres each week. He was also in charge of about 12 employees, who he hopes will continue to thrive in his absence.

"I never asked those guys to do anything that I wouldn't do," he said. "I am not afraid to get my hands dirty."

Having survived eight mayors, eight city managers and more than 30 different commissioners, Bentley said, what he will miss most is his interaction with other city officials and employees, and, "for lack of a better term, the feeling of being needed."

"I kind of feel like I could be counted on. If someone needed something, I was there, and now there is a void," he told The Register. "I kind of miss that interaction with everybody, that feeling of being needed. I guess it was like a surrogate for the family time that I used to have, and it became like an extended family, I would be there for them whenever I could."

And while some who retire plan to focus on hobbies, spending time with family or perhaps relocating to Boca, Bentley said he will likely return to work after the winter, finding another job to fill his time.

"I am not really sure what to do with myself," he said.

One idea he has entertained post retirement is potentially opening a storefront on Main Street for an antique show, having a passion for collecting antiques and oddities.

And while his tenure with Richmond parks may have reached its end, his coworkers and other board members say his positive, youthful and energetic presence is irreplaceable.

Kathy Palmer, a parks board member, said in her four years on the board, she has always found him to be enthusiastic.

"(He) had a personal investment in everything he did in parks. He was always so positive and enthusiastic and kept everyone laughing at board meetings," she said. "I have nothing but good things to say about him, and he is irreplaceable."

Brittany Pixley, program coordinator for parks, described working with Bentley as an adventure in the seven years she has had the pleasure to do so.

"He was always willing to share a tale from days gone by or help plan a prank on a fellow co-worker," Pixley said. "His tough exterior is a mask for his kind personality. Not one to receive accolades, Joe often does for others without recognition. I will miss working with him daily and hope the best for him in whatever he chooses to do next."

A good majority of his fellow parks workers said they will miss Bentley's ability to brighten anyone's day, one of whom is Erin Moore, the director of recreation and administration.

"What I will miss most about Joe is his ability to tell stories," she said. "My favorite story is about the time he purchased fake lottery tickets for a co-worker, and one got lost in his truck. A few years went by and he found the ticket. When he scratched it off, he thought he won several thousand dollars. He took it to the store, and when the clerk told him it was fake, Joe grabbed the ticket from the clerk and said, 'Those guys!' and left the store. He is one of those people who always has a funny anecdote and likes to bring humor to the conversation. It was fun to listen to his stories and talk to him one-on-one."

Mary Whitaker, the parks administrative assistant for more than 26 years, said the fake lottery ticket was one story that would never be forgotten.

"Joe was quite a comic," Whitaker said. "Not many days went by without him making me laugh or smile. The memory of the fake lottery ticket cannot be topped! I could always count on him to help me, which always made my job easier. Many times I witnessed how soft his heart was when someone was in need and also the number of hours that he donated to city employees when a life situation had used up all their leave time."

And although many employed by the city think of themselves as just that, Bentley said he thought of himself as a community servant, helping to serve anyone in Richmond who needed a helping hand, whatever it may be.

"I help whoever needs help," he said.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter @TaylorSixRR.

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