By: Diane Emeott Korzen Contributing Writer
“This is the greatest job. And the most fantastic place to work. I do feel like the luckiest person in the world, having had this job!” said beloved, City Of Boca Raton Recreation Services Director Mickey Gomez, who retired after 33 years with the city on Nov. 30.
On Dec. 8, the City of Boca Raton officially announced the new Recreation Services Director as Michael J. Kalvort.
Kalvort and Gomez both attended the Nov. 27 Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District meeting in which Gomez bid the Board ‘farewell.’ Kalvort declined to have his picture taken at the meeting. “At the next meeting,” he said. “This is Mickey’s day.”
“This is very emotional. This morning at 8:30 a.m., I told all the managers ‘goodbye,’ the City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, etc. Last night it was the Beach & Park District. I’m tearing up right now,” said Gomez on Nov. 28.
Asked what he will miss most, and what he won’t miss too much, Gomez answered the latter question as “Ironing my shirts for work.” He said he would most miss “all the great people I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the years, from the elected officials and residents, to the employees of Recreation Services and the City of Boca Raton.”
Did you know?
The Recreation Services Director role encompasses more than most residents realize.
“I am responsible for 46 parks, two golf courses (Boca Municipal out west by the turnpike, and Alan Alford Red Reef Course), two libraries and their staff (Downtown Boca library and Spanish River Library), Boca Cemetery and Masoleum, and the Swim & Racquet Club,” explained Gomez.
Regarding all of the change he has seen during his tenure on the job, Gomez said, “I really think things have changed for the better. The elected officials and residents have put a high priority on Parks & Recreation.
“In 1984, when I started as Deputy Parks Director, (serving 9 ½ years before becoming Director), we only had a $6 million operating budget. We now have over a $50 million operating budget just for Recreation Services!”
Gomez said he was hired by Tom Alexander, who had just moved from Deputy Director to Director, after the city’s first Recreation Director James Rutherford moved to City Manager.
“In those days, it was just Recreation Services. Now they have added Parks and Facilities. What is now the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District was originally called the Beach Tax District. It was created to pay off beach bonds at Red Reef Park, and to develop and operate Red Reef Park, the oceanfront park.
“In , we asked the State Legislature if we could go beyond beaches. “That’s when they changed the name to the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District.
[The District] purchased the 55-acre Patch Reef Park with a $1 million donation from Palm Beach County.
“Beach & Park District Executive Director Arthur Koski has been there since Day 1. Chairman Robert Rollins, Jr. was on the Parks & Recreation Board when I started.
It was he who reminded me in dealing with a particular employee situation, something my mother said too: ‘Listen to both sides and lead with your heart, for a good outcome for everyone.’”
Gomez was born in New Orleans, LA but said he never really lived there. His parents were both from New Orleans. His dad taught at Louisiana State University (LSU) at the time, from which Mickey later graduated.
Gomez said he attended three different high schools: 9th grade in New York City, NY; 10th & 11th grade in Monterey, Mexico; and 12th grade in Bethesda, MD.
Through his father’s teaching opportunities (he was a Professor of Economics who specialized in Latin America), Mickey also attended the American School System in Lima, Peru and in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil during his growing up years.
“My dad [also named Miguel] said I had to marry a New Orleans girl. And I did. I met my wife Bonnie [Randall] at college and we’ve been married for 42 years…”My roommate was her high school boyfriend. She and I were good friends for three years. We played tennis, went to bars. She said she’d better find a good husband. I invited her to New York City to see the ball drop. I remember she only brought sandals to wear on her feet [and the rest is history]…
They now have a grown son who served in the Peace Corps, and a daughter who played soccer in the World Cup and Summer Olympics in Greece in 2004 and today lives in San Diego with her two kids.
Louisiana briefly summoned Mickey back after Hurricane Katrina. “My wife, all her family is there. My parents had moved back; they lost everything in Katrina. I went there looking for them. For four or five days, there was no word from them; just what was on the TV news; it was horrible. My sister called me up and said, ‘You have to go look for them.’ One of the former Boca Council Members Peter Baronoff, who had a hospital, was sending a bunch of nurses down there. ‘If you want to go to Baton Rouge, the plane is leaving in two hours,’ I was told.
Also, after some days, Susan Haynie’s husband Neil was going to fly me down. My son was just coming home from the Peace Corps in Africa. He and I flew down to Baton Rouge and looked for my parents. Nothing. A couple days later, I got a call from a nurse in San Antonio, TX, where they had just arrived… “They were really pretty beaten up [when we got to San Antonio]. They were thinner and wearing hand-me-down clothes,” Gomez recalled.
New City of Boca Raton Recreation Services Director Michael J. Kalvort, CPRE, began his career in Broward County and also worked on Florida’s west coast.
He most recently served as Parks & Recreation Director for Virginia Beach, VA, and brings 25 years of industry experience to the role.
From Gomez, Kalvort will inherit management and supervision of the city’s 46 parks, 2 miles of public beaches and approximately 800 department employees.
The Recreation Services Department manages the city’s beautification and irrigation division, two libraries, two golf courses, tennis, aquatics, athletic programs and fields, community center programs, classes and special events.