Dec 28

Guess who turns 50 in 2021?

Posted on December 28, 2020 at 4:05 PM by Becky Burnside

JCPRD’s 50 Plus Department has been serving the community since 1971 and as of 2021, it will be old enough to participate in its own programs! 

In all seriousness, the department has spent the past five decades providing tools, resources, and outlets to help older adults of Johnson County and beyond live and age well.

In July of 1971 the JCPRD Senior Adult Program was developed to meet the needs of older adults in the community.  The program was initially funded under Title III of the Older Americans Act.  JCPRD staff aided in developing programs in Olathe, Prairie Village and Mission.   The early, weekly meetings of the groups at each location consisted of entertainment, socialization, cards, and games.  Additional activities were available through countywide functions such as parties and travel which were planned by JCPRD.  

50 Plus plans to celebrate this major milestone in 2021, but with the uncertainty of the pandemic, for the January through April season, this will mostly take the form of small in-person and virtual programs that are throwbacks to the 70s, 80s, and the 90s. This season’s tie-in programs focus on the 90s and can be found in the 50 plus section of the new January through April issue of the My JCPRD Activities catalog marked with (50!). But the department hopes to have a bigger in-person event later in the year.

A few important milestones in the department include:
  • July 1971: First meeting of the Olathe Satisfied Seniors held at the Olathe Fire Station.
  • June 1972: The 50 Plus Travel Program was conceived and hired a full-time staff member to plan day trips and extended tours.  
  • January 1980: The 50 Plus Program (formerly Senior Adult Program) opens site at the new Overland Park Community Center and began offering a variety of fee and non-fee classes.  
  • March 1984: The Olathe Senior Center moved to its new location at 420 E. Santa Fe and increased programing to five days a week, one evening, and one Saturday per month.
  • January 1993: 50 Plus performance group, The Side by Side Singers and Strutters (now the Side by Side Experience) begin performing to public audiences.
  • June 1994: 50 Plus Program sports programming was initiated starting with the Malibu Grand Prix program which was an on-going racing club.  
  • September 2004: The 1st annual Kansas City Senior Games began and includes a 5K, golf, tennis, bowling, horseshoes, and shuffleboard with games expanding to other events such as swimming, track and field, softball and more. 
  • January 2005: First session of the New Horizons Band is offered.  
  • October 2011: Picked up and re-vamped the long-standing event Senior Quest (formerly Celebrate Age), that was cancelled after 2010 to Senior Fest. Moved it from the Overland Park Convention Center to the Ritz Charles.
  • August 2014: Started the Mid-West Regional Pickleball Tournament at New Century Fieldhouse.
  • July 2019: Began programming at the new Meadowbrook Park Clubhouse in Prairie Village, Kan.  
  • December 2019: Sent a traveler to Antarctica, attaining a goal of our travel program going to all seven continents.
This summer or fall, depending on the status of the pandemic, we hope to offer an event to truly celebrate and commemorate this milestone but will adapt as necessary.  We’ll feature all our celebration activities in our weekly e-newsletters and social media sites along with interesting historical facts about programs we’ve offered, people we’ve met, and partnerships we’ve developed.   

Keys to our department’s long-term success have included:  emphasizing wellness and educational opportunities; keeping up with national and regional trends; being responsive to the needs and interests of those they serve; and building partnerships with numerous community groups ranging from local health organizations, educational institutions, city park and recreation agencies, national organizations, and other government agencies.  Some examples of those partners include UMKC’s Conservatory of Music and Dance, University of Kansas’ OSHER Institute, City of Overland Park, Lenexa Parks and Recreation, AARP, Mid America Regional Council, and so many more.

Pickleball is a great example of how we stay successful and relevant. We were the first in the metro to offer pickleball in 2008. Through research, talking with participants, and our positive relationships with our partners, we were able to start this program at the Tomahawk Ridge Community Center with equipment we were able to get donated through  With support of the United States Pickleball Association, we learned the rules, found some that were interested in the sport, started offering drop-in play options, and from there it continued to grow and is now spreading like wildfire across our community.  

Other popular 50 Plus offerings include: an extended travel program that has taken people all over the US and around the world for the past 48 years; the Side by Side Experience singing group which has been around for at least 25 years; a nature walk program that for more than 20 years has let the more adventurous hike trails in Kansas and Missouri; and the New Horizons Band which for more than 15 years has provided a place for musicians who haven’t picked up an instrument since middle school the chance to play. 

While virtual programs have been a lifeline and necessity in 2020 because of COVID-19, we hope these can grow and continue even after the pandemic. They’ve proven to be a positive way to bring forth educational programs, reach homebound individuals, and those with busy schedules who want to quickly pop online.  We’ve just tapped into the early stages of our virtual programs.  They can keep us better connected to those we already serve and help us reach new audiences in our community.

With society being more aware of how important it is to stay active and engaged to maintain independence our programs are trending to meet this need.  The next wave of boomers and older adults recognize the need to be prepared to live longer so they are seeking ways to educate themselves on how to do that well. There is great freedom to be able to learn and incorporate healthy living tools and techniques to prevent and/or manage chronic diseases.  There is also great freedom in having a plan in place should the worst-case scenario happen. Programs like Live Well Age Well, the Aging Mastery Program, and our evidence-based wellness classes like T’ai Chi for Arthritis are a few examples of programs that meet that need.
Care and attention to detail by 50 Plus staff is also important along with professionalism, providing high quality programs, and excellent customer service.  This has always been expected by the department staff in the past and those practices continue to be instilled today.  Asking our users what their interests are and following through by providing the opportunity to pursue those interests is also key to our success.

Ultimately, making a difference in the lives of participants is what keeps the program relevant. 
Our true strength is in the positive outcomes our users have gained through participation.  By focusing on providing opportunities for people to gain new skills, improve their overall health, and socialize keeps the older adults in our community engaged, independent, and relevant.  Those outcomes drive our department’s passion to serve. The programs we offer are vitally important and we must maintain a level of excellence and be forward thinking with the staff in place now who will hold the reigns in the future.

Stay tuned and join us for a year of fun and celebration!
Dec 16

Gary Haller leaves major legacy in Johnson County

Posted on December 16, 2020 at 12:22 PM by Becky Burnside

By David Markham

Johnson County recently lost a champion of green space and recreation activities who was  instrumental in impacting the quality of life in Johnson County. Longtime JCPRD employees have lost a friend. 

Former JCPRD Executive Director Gary L. Haller passed away in the early hours of Thursday, Dec. 10. He had retired from the agency in March 2001 after 27 years with JCPRD, but had remained in touch with many current and former employees. 

“Many of you, like me, had the privilege of working with him and seeing his true genius that left lasting impacts on JCPRD and Johnson County, as well as beyond those boundaries,” JCPRD Administration Manager Jo Ann Courtney wrote in a Thursday email to staff. “He will not be forgotten, and the Gary L. Haller Trail on the Mill Creek Streamway Park will tell a part of his story to generations to come.”

In June of 2002, the 17 miles of the trail she mentions was renamed to honor Haller. Interpretive signs featuring a portrait of the former director and information about his impact in the field of parks and recreation are located near all eight access points to the trail, which stretches from 119th and Northgate in Olathe to Nelson Island in the Kansas River.

“So many of us have been fortunate to have Gary as a friend and mentor,” added current JCPRD Executive Director Jeff Stewart, who came to the agency in 2016 as deputy director and became executive director in September 2019. “Gary was the father of the streamway park system. If you haven’t already, I hope sometime you will have an opportunity to visit the streamway and stop to read the signage about him.”

Gary L Haller

“It is so true that we are blessed to have had Gary in our lives,” added Former Executive Director Jill Geller, who left JCPRD in September 2019 after five and -one-half years as executive director and 36 years with JCPRD in various capacities. “(Gary) did not just lead an organization - he created a family. I wish we could be together to celebrate his amazing life, but we are for sure together in spirit.”

“Few men or women for that matter, shaped a work team, a community and even a national movement in parks and recreation more than our beloved ‘gentle bear’ Gary,” said Michael Meadors, who served as JCPRD’s executive director from 2001 to 2013, and a total of 27 years with the agency. “I know I am a better person having shared many life experiences with such a wonderful man!” 

“He was a grizzly bear with a sincere heart of gold,” added former Johnson County Park and Recreation Board Member Vickie Truitt, who served on the board from 1993 to 2006. “I treasure my memories of working with him. We will miss him so much!”    

No one knew it the time, but a number of longtime and former employees and board members got to see Haller one last time during the opening of a time capsule which took place on Nov. 5. The capsule was sealed in 1995 when the JCPRD Administration Building in Shawnee Mission Park opened, and its contents were revealed during the outdoor event in November. 

“The opening of that 1995-2020 time capsule was a fitting goodbye,” Courtney said. “It was his idea, and 1995 was the first year JCPRD won the National Gold Medal Award.”  

Gary Haller and Jeff Stewart look at 1995 annual report at time capsule opening

Under Haller’s leadership, JCPRD grew from fewer than 50 employees to 165 employees and, from fewer than 1,800 acres to approximately 6,100 acres of parkland. The agency was formed in 1955 and Haller served as its fourth Director. JCPRD achieved national recognition as the 1995 recipient of the prestigious Gold Medal Award. In 1999, it became only the 22nd agency in the nation to become nationally accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, and it has been reaccredited in five-year increments five times since then.

A Colby, Kan., native, Haller came to JCPRD in August 1974 after 15 years with the state of Kansas, where he served as assistant director in charge of state outdoor recreation planning and administration of the Federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and did recreation planning for the Kansas Park and Resource Authority.
Dec 10

‘Tis the season to enjoy a variety of JCPRD programs and events

Posted on December 10, 2020 at 2:21 PM by Becky Burnside

JCPRD has put together an assortment of holiday program offerings for everyone in the family from toddlers to 50 Plus.

Whether you’d like to attend a workshop where you can visit virtually with Santa “live from the North Pole,” make a Snowman Wine Glass Candleholder, hear strategies for dealing with grief and depression during the holidays, learn about the tradition of card giving and a local company’s role in it, watch virtual performances of the Theatre in the Park’s Innovative Theatre Challenge contest winner “And to all… a SWIPE RIGHT,” hear holiday-related stories, provide gifts for the animals at Ernie Miller Nature Center, and more, we’ve got plenty of opportunities for you to enjoy and share some good cheer. 

Note that a number of other holiday-themed programs which were announced earlier, including some long-time favorites, are not on this list because they have either already filled or have been cancelled for this year. Keep in mind most of the programs below require advance registration.


Dec. 3

Dec. 5

Dec. 9

Dec. 10

Dec. 11, 12, 13, 18, 19, & 20

Dec. 12

Dec. 12 & 13
  • Cancelled - Santa’s Virtual Workshop, Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center (All Ages - 5 sessions offered) 

Dec. 15

Dec. 17

Dec. 31