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Parks and Rec director moves Roswell forward

Jim Burress, director of Parks and Recreation, shared an exclusive interview and tour of the closed Yucca Recreation Center with the Daily Record in early March. The fate of the Yucca Center has been sent back to Roswell City Council for further consideration and more coverage may appear after the city council meeting in May. (Trevier Gonzalez Photo)

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On a Friday payday, Rudy Chavez, superintendent of parks, said the city of Roswell’s parks and recreation and the water department had to combine forces to deal with transite (asbestos-cement) pipe at Spring River Park and Zoo. Chavez said Jim Burress, Parks and Recreation director, created certificates honoring the seven city workers for extra efforts that day. Chavez said someone in the water department said they had not received an award in their 20-plus years of service and felt appreciated.

Coming from a varied background in aviation, photography and the corporate business world, Burress is known as a leader and a kind person with many stories. Buress was born Aug. 14, 1958, in Orange County and has lived in many different places. He describes himself as a businessman that is new to government and cares deeply for his department.

Burress said he has the following four golden rules for life and work: treat staff and people with respect, be consistent, create safety and to be aware of the consequences on how one treats people.

“Jim is a really wonderful leader and he obviously cares about his people,” said Elizabeth Gilbert, director of administrative services. “That includes people that are in his department — but that also includes everyone at the city. He always says that he loves everyone and he makes sure that he knows that. He cares very deeply about making an impact on the city through his works in Parks and Recreation.”

Ruben Esquivel, superintendent at the South Park Cemetary, said Burress is to the point and knows what he wants. Esquivel added that he trusts Burress’ knowledge and advice — whether it is personal or professional.

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Chavez said his crew has shirts with Burress’ slogan ‘Now, what did you learn?” Chavez said Burress approaches mistakes as learning experiences for the department after asking if everyone is safe first.  Chavez said Burress is a character with many layers and is grateful to have him in the city.

In his personal life, Burress and his wife Vicki, who he described as having the patience of a saint, met in Wichita, Kansas, and they have been married for almost 40 years. Vickie works at the New Mexico Military Institute and the couple has three children in their 30s, three grandchildren, and one “grand dog.” Burress went to college at Wichita State University, but never finished because he started his family. Professionally, he climbed the ladder in his career in aviation and supporting his wife and children through college, most of them have completed master’s degree programs.

In Springfield, Illinois, Burress said they lived in a 150-year-old farmhouse on 140 acres of land surrounded by corn with a vast garden, library and a variety of animals. With animated gestures, Burress said the house was always filled with their children and other children who came to visit for bonfires, comfort food and the annual tomato fight. He described the house saying it was full of projects and learning, which he and Vickie encouraged in all of the inhabitants and visitors. Burress said witnessing those children find their passions, some of which found eventual careers, through learning and play is beyond rewarding for him.

When he has free time, Burress said he and his wife enjoy camping and being in the woods. An avid reader, Burress reads about three hours a night to continue his passion for science, history and learning in general. He said he loves being on the ocean and photography adventures.

Desiring to move west because of Vickie’s allergies to corn and mold, Burress visited Roswell. He said he called Vickie and said he felt like he was home because of the city residents he met. Around three years ago, Burress started a position as the parks and groundskeeper at the Roswell International Air Center and transitioned to director of parks and recreation about 10 months ago. Burress said this job is more fun than his corporate past and his work is rewarding for more people.

Gina Montague, Burress’ administrative assistant, described him as quite a character and is energetic, smart and humble.

“He seems all over the place but he really isn’t,” Montague said. “He’s really very consistent. Even though his thought process is kind of scattered and sometimes hard to follow he is very consistent. So that is what I like about working with him is I can always count on if he says this — this time that’s how it is going to be.

“He’s doing things to make the city better — that is always his focus to make things better for the citizens that live here.”

Burress said he loves his staff and said his job is to simply solve problems and remove barriers so his department can do their jobs. Along with encouraging integration in city departments, Chavez said Burress has made a difference by providing support that the parks and recreation department need and in turn has changed the attitude of the workers for the better.

“When you accomplish something, you need to celebrate that,” Burress said. “There has to be some kind of recognition. We work very hard — all of my departments are changing. We are driving forward and there has to be recognition. There really does because if the employees think that they are never recognized or no one cares —why do it? In my departments, we don’t have that’s good enough — well that’s not good enough. What is the best you can do? I understand that comes from inside your heart. I can’t teach that. So self-motivated people, people that take pride in and respect what they do — you have to promote that. That has to be the driver when you are working on things. A little bit of praise and thanks goes a long way.”

Montague said Roswell’s Parks and Recreation department makes a difference in the quality of life in Roswell, which attracts new people and sustains the current residents. She said it is rewarding work for Burress’ team because they aware that they are making a difference in citizens’ lives. She said his employees’ safety, happiness and well-being is his top priority with these same concerns for residents of Roswell.

Burress said he recognizes that is hard to see Cahoon Pool and the Yucca Recreation Center close, but also said people are getting excited about the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center set to open in early next year.

“If you added up all of our employees and all of our departments, we might have 50 people,” Burress said. “We are taking care of over 50,000 people that live here. All of our departments are quality of life. When you are little kid, you are in a stroller on my trails and then you learn how to ride a bike — then you get a little bit older and you are chasing the soccer ball in circles. You get into sports and the programming we have. You get older and we are over at the adult center and we are playing dominoes, eating some popcorn, shooting some pool, making jewelry, and making quilts. At the very end, you pass away and I bury you with respect. All of my departments are quality of life and it is not going to get more important than that.

“I will tell you right to your face that my departments are going to change Roswell. Period. They don’t have a choice. Ruben, Rudy, all of my superintendents, they have been told — we will be the catalyst to change Roswell. We are moving forward.”

City/RISD reporter Alison Penn can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 205, or at reporter04@rdrnews.com.

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