Jim Kappelhoff was the oldest of four brothers and took charge when it came to organizing pickup games.They made a small hockey rink in the back yard of their St. Paul home, and Kappelhoff would organize neighborhood kids into tournament brackets when they went to the local city park. They would stay there all day playing sports, come home for dinner and then go back to the park.
“You could count on the fact that there were always enough kids to have a game of either baseball or football or hockey, and that was our entertainment,” Kappelhoff said. “We didn’t have the video games then.”
His family moved to Anoka when he was in ninth grade. After he graduated from Anoka High School in 1972 he never lost his interest in organizing sporting events. It would become a significant part of his early career.
Kappelhoff is retiring Feb. 28 as Blaine’s park and recreation director after having served about six years in that role. Kappelhoff started working part-time as an adult athletics league director for Blaine in 1982. He became the full-time recreation supervisor in 1984 and held that title until longtime parks and recreation director Jim Peterson retired in 2007. He had been with the city for 34 years, including 23 years as the director.
Prior to Blaine, Kappelhoff was a program supervisor in Spring Lake Park’s park and recreation department in 1981 and the recreation programmer for the city of Fridley from 1977 to 1980. After he graduated from Anoka High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to get help paying his college tuition under the G.I. Bill. He received an associate of arts degree in recreation leadership in 1972 from North Hennepin Community College and a bachelor of science degree in recreation, parks and leisure studies from the University of Minnesota in 1982.
Mayor Tom Ryan said Kappelhoff and Peterson had the biggest impact on the growth of the Blaine parks program.
“He grew up with the whole program,” he said of Kappelhoff. “He helped develop it a lot.”
Peterson said Kappelhoff handled the city’s adult athletics programs and was the liaison with youth athletics groups, which included scheduling field use.
Kappelhoff said he set up training programs for the adults volunteering to be coaches of the youth sports teams. He joined the National Youth Sports Coaches Association (NYSCA) and at one point served as a chapter director for this organization. He has served on the advisory committee for the NYSCA since 2002.
Kappelhoff’s father Jim Kappelhoff was Anoka’s park and recreation director from March 1975 through the end of 1979. His father would later become the director of the North Anoka County Emergency (NACE) Food Shelf in East Bethel for about 20 years.
The younger Kappelhoff was drawn to a career in parks and recreation because of his interest in sports and his father’s background. He would find out that the job was much more about sports, however.
“You have to have a passion and a vision about what’s in the future and try to meet that with the needs of the community,” Kappelhoff said.
Blaine has become a more diverse community. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 84 percent of Blaine’s population is white, 7.8 percent Asian, 3.7 percent African American and 3.2 percent Hispanic or Latino. These are the four largest segments. In 2000, the percentages were 93.9 percent white, 2.5 percent Asian, 0.9 percent black and 1.7 percent Hispanic or Latino.
In celebration of the growing diversity, Kappelhoff started the Blaine World Fest in 2008 to bring together the different cultures through the sharing of foods, dances and arts.
Another key project for Kappelhoff was the Miracle League field at the Blaine Baseball Complex, which was renamed Harmon Killebrew Memorial Field last spring. Killebrew was behind the drive to develop fields in Minnesota that gives kids with disabilities the chance to enjoy the fun and camaraderie of team sports. He attended the groundbreaking ceremony for the Blaine field in 2005 and the opening game in 2006.
Kappelhoff said in 2004 that Miracle League of Minnesota founder and executive director Kevin Thoresen came to city hall to pitch the idea of Blaine having the first Miracle League field in Minnesota.
The only thing Blaine had to do was donate the land, Kappelhoff said. The construction material and labor was paid for through donations by the Minnesota Twins Community Fund, the Carl and Eloise Pohlad Family Foundation and the Minnesota Utility Contractors Association.
“Of course with Harmon Killebrew on board with the Miracle League of Minnesota, it was a success right from the beginning,” Kappelhoff said.
He fondly remembers opening day on May 6, 2006 and seeing all the kids in their jerseys playing a ball game with a real pipe organ playing in the background and T.C. Bear interacting with the kids and crowd.
Lakeside Commons Park was probably the signature project during his time as Blaine’s park and recreation director, Kappelhoff said. Planning for the nearly $3 million project was challenging, but enjoyable. He worked with multiple city departments including finance, engineering and inspections as well as with various contractors to stay up to date on what was happening.
Lakeside Commons Park opened in 2010 and includes a beach, watercraft rental, beach house with changing rooms and restrooms, picnic shelter, trails and a large playground.
“Providing a facility like that which serves 50,000 people a summer to me is something that is meeting the needs of the community,” Kappelhoff said.
Over 350 people competed in the inaugural Blaine Triathlon at Lakeside Commons Park in May 2012. Registration is open for the second annual competition on May 18. Nate Monahan, program supervisor, oversees the Blaine Triathlon.
Deciding to retire
Peterson felt Kappelhoff was the strongest person to take over for him after he retired in 2007 because he had overall knowledge of the operation of the department.
“I was very proud he was able to fill my position,” Peterson said. “I thought he would be there longer.”
Kappelhoff also thought he would be there longer, but he was eligible for retirement and decided to accept an offer from the city to retire in early 2013 as part of the city’s overall effort to reduce its budget.
Kappelhoff said his original plan was to stay on through the end of 2013 and see through planning of the 40-acre Lexington Avenue Athletic Park complex, finishing up Legacy Creek Park and replacing a field at Aquatore Park.
Kappelhoff is preparing other staff to take over his job responsibilities after he retires, so he has not really thought about March 1, he said.
Robert Therres, who has been with the city of Blaine since 2001 and is the public services manager, will also be taking on the title of interim parks and recreation director when Kappelhoff retires.
One of Therres’ roles will be to evaluate current Blaine staff to see if anybody is a candidate to become the next parks and recreation director.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]