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Exercising leadership Jim Summers named executive director of Ephrata Rec Center
By: RICHARD REITZ Review Correspondent, Staff Writer
You could say that the journey to executive director of the Ephrata Recreation Center began when Jim Summers was a 5-year-old kid taking swimming lessons at the Ephrata Community Pool.
"I remember when Tom Grater, the original architect of the Rec Center, would be there at our lessons," Summers fondly recalled. "If he couldn’t remember your name, he just called you ‘Bird.’ I’m not sure why, exactly. That’s just what he called all of the kids. I remember being called Bird a lot."
As a teenager, he continued to participate in sports like basketball, baseball and football at the Rec Center, and was employed as a locker attendant at the pool when he was 14 years old. Throughout his high school and college days, he served in other positions at the Rec Center.
Look how far this "bird" has flown. Today, Summers, 54, is managing the entire operation.
Summers, who joined the Ephrata Recreation Center’s full-time staff as its racquetball director in 1980 and became program coordinator in 1993, officially started his new duties as executive director on Feb. 1.
He replaces David Lloyd, who left the post last July. Since then, Summers has served as interim executive director until his appointment became official this month.
"His experience will enable him to provide outstanding leadership to the Ephrata Recreation Center," said Andy Gehman, president of the Ephrata Recreation Center Board. "We are looking forward to Jim leading us in a new direction."
Before selecting its new executive director, the board conducted a leadership assessment and search for candidates, which included Summers. Although he came to the table with over 30 years of experience with the Rec Center, Summers took nothing for granted.
"The Board did its due diligence, and I’m glad that they went through the assessment," Summers said. "I am pleased they determined that I was the best suited for the position."
Summers, a lifelong Ephrata resident and a 1976 graduate of Ephrata High School, becomes the fifth executive director in the history of the Rec Center.
Soon after graduating from East Stroudsburg State College in 1980 with a degree in health and physical education, Summers accepted the position of racquetball director back in his hometown.
His original plan after graduation was to find a teaching position where he could coach. However, plans changed after he was offered the position at the Ephrata Rec Center. His role evolved into coordinator of boy’s programs and men’s programs before being named the overall program coordinator in 1993.
"I think I bring a unique perspective, since I’ve seen 50 years of growth at the Rec Center, as a participant, coach, program coordinator and now as the executive director," Summers said.
One of the challenges facing the Ephrata Recreation Center is maintaining a viable operation in a tough economy.
"When the family budget gets tight, one of the first things to go are the recreation memberships, and they are one of the last things to come back," Summers said. "Recreation centers are usually one of the last ones to see a full recovery."
He said the Rec Center has taken steps to provide good value for the community and keep membership as strong as possible.
"We always try to keep programming current and innovative," Summers said. So while they continue to provide favorite programs like basketball leagues and swimming lessons, they also provide new and popular programs like Zumba exercise classes.
They also try to ensure that their rates are as affordable as possible. Last year they reduced rates to $20 a month, which he said was effective in helping to increase membership numbers.
"Above all, we just need to keep doing the things that we do well," he said. That includes good customer service, and always looking for new opportunities to provide programs for families and senior citizens.
One such initiative is the Silver Sneaker program, which Summers said provides payment of membership fees for senior citizens through Medicare. The program started in January, and he said so far it has gone very well.
Summers isn’t just the executive director — he also continues to be an active participant in many of the Rec Center programs. Although he doesn’t play as much basketball or volleyball as he did in his younger days, he still uses the fitness rooms as much as he can. Plus, he is currently participating in the Rec Center’s popular Biggest Loser program to lose weight with a balance of exercise and healthy diet.
Looking ahead, Summers said they will take an overall look at the maintenance needs of the Rec Center, look to add more programs that promote youth fitness, and use technology to promote their programs.
The Ephrata Recreation Center is now using both traditional printed methods and current digital media and social media networks in order to get the word out to the public.
One of his first administrative duties will be to locate a program coordinator to hand the duties he managed for 20 years. Since he was named interim executive director, Summers has been handling both roles and is looking forward to finding someone to bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to that position.
He has been very pleased with the support he has received from the staff during this transition period, when a lot of people found themselves in new, unfamiliar roles at times.
"It gave each of us some different perspectives, and that was good," he said. "People got to see how other avenues of our operation worked, and they were able to give their ideas on new things we could try.
"I can’t say enough about how the entire staff really rallied," Summers added. "They were always there when I needed help. Everybody went the extra mile to help maintain our operations over the last six months."
In addition to his roles at the Rec Center, Summers has served on the Mayor’s Advisory Council for Youth, the Warwick to Ephrata Rails to Trails Feasibility Committee and is a past member of the War Memorial Association. He is vice president of the Red Rose Midget Football League and has served on Ephrata High School Football Coach Search and Turf Field committees.
Jim lives in Clay Township with his wife Wanda Summers. They are the parents of two children, Eric Minnich and Annette Minnich. More SUMMERS, page A6