By David Markham
As a former park and recreation official, Gary Ristow of Lenexa brings more than 40 years of related experience to the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners.
Ristow began his term as the board’s new 2nd District representative during the group’s March 15 regular meeting.
“I have witnessed the positive influences a robust parks and recreation system offers to its citizens,” he said. “I have had the good fortune of being associated with a number of outstanding departments and I hope to bring some of the insight gleaned from those experiences to the JCPRD Board. I believe I can draw on the experiences of my career and help contribute insight in a number of areas. I also see it as an opportunity to learn from the JCPRD Board and staff while continuing to participate in a field I love.”
Until he retired in December 2020, Ristow served as Lenexa Parks and Recreation Department director for 12 years. In that position, he oversaw administrative and managerial planning, organization, and direction of all aspects for the department. Prior to this, he served as parks and recreation department recreation services manager in Columbia, Mo., for more than 22 years from February 1986 to November 2008, and as parks and recreation director for the city of West Carrollton, Ohio, from July 1980 to January 1986.
Ristow holds a bachelor’s of science degree in recreational resource management – natural resources management from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master’s of science in parks and recreation management from Michigan State University, East Lansing. The commissioner was born and raised in Wisconsin and has lived in Lenexa since 2012.
During his career, Ristow was a member of the National Recreation and Park Association, the Missouri Park and Recreation Association (where he serve a year as president of the organization), and the Kansas Recreation and Park Association.
As a new board member, Ristow said his immediate goal is to learn more about JCPRD and become a commissioner who will work to add value to the organization. He added that he has a strong interest in programs and facilities which serve the needs of residents of all ages and abilities.
“JCPRD is the local leader in those efforts,” he said. “I strongly believe in the restorative values (on an individual and global level) of green space, whether they are active or passive areas. I am an avid user of the many trails and parks in the area and actively use many other trail systems throughout the country in my retirement travels. Trails also provide an opportunity for people to experience the outdoors, reinvigorate their spirits, and learn to respect nature. This was really evident during the pandemic.”
An ongoing challenge for JCPRD, Ristow said, will be to maintain its excellence.
“It is analogous to a sports team which works to be one of the best,” he said. “While getting there is a challenge, maintaining that caliber involves another set of challenges. That being said, there will always be opportunities for growth. The challenge will be to meet those needs with the available resources.”
One of those resources is JCPRD’s staff, which Ristow only had good things to say about.
“During my time in Lenexa, I had the chance to develop professional relationships with a number of staff members at JCPRD,” he said. “The professionalism, passion, and desire to continually improve to meet the needs of a growing Johnson County population is outstanding.”
As a retiree, Ristow currently belongs to a number of bicycling clubs and his wife and he enjoy riding on Rails to Trails bikeways throughout the United States.
“Exploring parks and riding trails was always a family vacation tradition when raising our three children,” he said. “Now we are given lots of opportunities to do the same as we travel to visit our grandchildren, two on the west coast and two on the east coast. Since retiring, my annual goal has been to ride 100 miles for every year I have been alive. I am closing in on 7,000 miles a year and may need to reevaluate that goal!”