The Town of Farragut looked very different when Parks and Recreation Director Sue Stuhl joined the staff in September 1991. There were just two parks – Anchor Park and Mayor Bob Leonard Park, which only had three fields at the time – and the current Town Hall was under construction. Her office was located above Rick Terry Jewelry Designs, and other town staff were working out of the renovated dairy barn behind what is now the Campbell Station Inn.
Stuhl was freshly graduated from UT with a master’s degree in recreation administration and being on the staff of the young town allowed her to wear many hats.
“When you’re part of a small staff, you do your job plus whatever else people need you to do,” she recalls. “That was a very big learning experience.”
Stuhl’s first position with the town was community programs director and her primary job was handling complaints. Within a few years, she was named parks and recreation director with a full-time staff of one. One of their tasks was locking and unlocking the gates on the parks – a challenge when cars were still in the parking lot at closing time.
The new Town Hall was dedicated in November of 1991. Stuhl remembers staying late several nights before the dedication to install exhibits in what would be the Farragut Folklife Museum. Initially, the entire staff worked on the first floor. Once the second floor was completed, the community room was available for events, like fitness and art classes and summer camps. Before that, she says, all events took place in the rotunda or the back of the board room.
The only community events that preceded Stuhl’s arrival were the Independence Day Parade and the Bob Watt Youth Fishing Rodeo. The first Freaky Friday Fright Nite was held at Anchor Park. Since there are no lights at the park, the walkway was lit by torches.
“No one caught on fire,” she laughs. “It was so successful we ran out of candy. We moved it to Mayor Bob Leonard Park the next year because we knew it was going to be huge.”
The first Shamrock Ball was held in 2006 after a long wait for a father-daughter dance. Stuhl asked fellow Kiwanis Club members for help because the town’s staff was too small to put on a dance alone. Other events haven’t had the lasting power of Freaky Friday or the Shamrock Ball.
“Lots of events have come and gone. We have to move onto something else or change events significantly.”
Farragut’s winter holiday offerings started small and turned into much bigger events. Celebrate the Season originally featured entertainment in the back of the board room, and Light the Park started with a few simple Christmas decorations at Campbell Station Park (now Founders Park at Campbell Station). Now, Light the Park spans from the commuter lot beside Campbell Station Wine & Spirits to Mayor Ralph McGill Plaza at the Campbell Station Inn. The growth continues this year as carriage rides are offered at the plaza.
Her favorite event is the Independence Day Parade.
“At the beginning, it was pretty basic. Now, some of the floats are really fancy, but it still has a hometown feel.”
The town’s parks have also grown significantly under Stuhl’s leadership. The purchase of 13 acres for Campbell Station Park was in 1993, and the first 26-acre parcel for McFee Park was purchased in 1995. McFee is now over 50 acres, and Phase 3 improvements should be completed by winter 2021. Mayor Ralph McGill Plaza was completed in late 2021, and the BlueCross Healthy Place at Town Hall Park will also open later this year.
Stuhl now has nine full-time employees and several part-time staffers, and the department has broadened to include public relations and tourism. The growth makes sense to her, given all the department does for the community.
“I’m a true believer in the power of parks and recreation. It’s one of the most important things the town does.”
Town of Farragut marketing and public relations coordinator Wendy Smith is your reliable Farragut insider.