Mount Airy has a new parks and recreation director, but one who is not exactly a novice when it comes to the municipality’s facilities and programs.
That’s because Darren Lewis has been part of the city recreational landscape for more than 30 years, starting when he was a 16-year-old high school student.
Before recently being appointed to his present position, Lewis, now 47, was the longtime assistant director of Mount Airy Parks and Recreation.
The leadership change was triggered by the March resignation of Catrina Alexander, the city of Mount Airy’s first recreation director (since 2005), who left to fill a new career development coordinator position with the city school system.
“I am excited to lead the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department and am fortunate to have an outstanding team around me,” Lewis commented Wednesday in reference to the 18 full-time employees of that division.
“As a team, it is our goal to take Mount Airy Parks and Recreation to a new level, by building a healthy community through parks, programs and partnerships.”
Lewis was quick to credit two individuals whose names are synonymous with recreation in the city for helping him build the administrative capabilities to make this possible.
“I have been blessed to work under two great leaders in Terry Pruett and Catrina Alexander that have been great mentors, and I feel this will assist me in becoming a great leader in our community as they are,” Lewis related.
“Terry and Catrina exposed me to every area in parks and recreation and I am thankful to each of them for their guidance over the past 25 years,” he added of the time frame spanning his work in Mount Airy.
Many hats worn
Many might argue that Darren Lewis has been a local leader in that field in his own right.
Lewis began his recreational career on a part-time basis at age 16 working at Reeves Community Center, now home base for the city rec department but then a privately owned entity.
The graduate of North Surry High School and Surry Community College became a full-time employee in 1991, remaining at RCC for the next 12 years until joining Surry County Parks and Recreation for a stint of about two years.
After city leaders created the Mount Airy Parks and Recreation Department in December 2004, Lewis joined it and now has logged 13 years with the operation.
In addition to the community center on South Renfro Street, the list of facilities under the department’s umbrella includes Riverside Park, the Granite City Greenway system of 6.6 miles, Westwood Park, Graham Field, H.B. Rowe Environmental Park and Tharrington Park.
The department provides a variety of sports leagues and fitness activities for people of all ages, including popular after-school and summer programs for youths.
Lewis was directly responsible for the city parks and recreation unit receiving the Innovative Program Award in 2006 with his creation of the Biggest Loser Program, which is still in place today as the Ultimate Weight-Loss Challenge.
After launching his public recreation career as a teen, Lewis went on to coach basketball for 18 years and in recent years has led the Surry County Officials Association.
He became a certified official in both basketball and soccer with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association, and has assisted with large-scale sporting events including local AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) and YBOA (Youth Basketball of America) basketball tournaments.
Lewis additionally earned certification as a lifeguard and pool operator and has been a national Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) since 2010.
A longtime running enthusiast who has competed in marathons including the one in New York City, Lewis organizes multiple events locally throughout the year. These include a half-marathon race and the Rosy Cheeks 5K, a run held every December to provide toys for needy kids.
Lewis and his wife Rebecca have four children.
Goals for department
“We are fortunate to have a supportive mayor, board of commissioners and city manager who realize that recreation impacts the quality of life for those in our community and understand how essential our department is to Mount Airy,” Lewis mentioned in reference to his new role.
“That does not happen in every community,” added the director, who wants to maximize opportunities for the public.
One of his goals going forward involves seeing plans for an extension of the city’s greenway system reach fruition.
“That’s one of our largest projects that’s coming up,” Lewis said Thursday, “trying to connect the northern end of the city’s greenway, eventually going to Jones School.” The plans further call for another northern link to Veterans Memorial Park to close a gap and provide a complete loop around the city.
Lewis also pointed out that Mount Airy Parks and Recreation involves more than its name suggests.
“We are a very diverse department with many divisions, including Grounds and Building Maintenance, Health and Wellness, Administrative, Aquatics, Athletics and Family Services and have a very talented division head leading these areas,” he explained.
“It will be another goal to educate the community on everything Mount Airy Parks and Recreation offers.”
Lewis stressed that he will be perpetuating a legacy already established.
“Reeves Community Center, Surry County Parks and Recreation and Mount Airy Parks and Recreation have been great to me and I want to return the favor and continue the tradition of quality recreation in Mount Airy and the surrounding areas that they have helped establish,” he remarked.
“After 25 plus years in recreation,” Lewis said of his full-time involvement with city programs, “I can honestly say I enjoy coming to work each day and look forward to many more years of service.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.