Melvin Cooper’s 24.7 million minutes of service to the city of Gainesville are soon coming to an end as he retires May 31.
Cooper, Gainesville’s parks director, has worked for the parks department for 47 years and been director since 1989. It’s the only job he’s ever had – he even did an internship with the department while he was studying at the University of Georgia.
He was honored at a retirement party Wednesday at the Gainesville Civic Center, which is also home to Gainesville Parks and Recreation offices.
Cooper said the highlight of his career has been the personal connections he has made.
“It’s an awe-inspiring day to see all these people here and that’s what I’m going to miss the most,” he said.
Cooper and his wife Deborah have two daughters, and Cooper said he hopes to spend more time with his grandson in St. Marys.
He was first hired as a program coordinator and also served as assistant director for 16 years. Cooper has seen Gainesville’s population about triple. During his tenure, the Frances Meadows Aquatic Center and several other facilities have opened, Gainesville has hosted events for the 1996 Summer Olympics, and the Gainesville Civic Center has been renovated.
He said he always knew he wanted a career where he could work with people and have a positive impact, and he is proud of what Gainesville Parks and Recreation has done to better the community.
“I look at the people in my life and see so many faces. … We, all of us and all of the people behind me, can make a difference one person at a time,” Cooper said.
Jane and Charlie Moore, longtime friends of the Coopers, attended the retirement party Wednesday to show their support.
“Melvin has been an asset to the city of Gainesville and the parks and rec department,” Charlie Moore said. “I can’t think of anybody that could easily fill his shoes, but I’m sure they will.”
And of Deborah, Jane Moore said “they’re very special, and she is just as sweet as her husband.”
State Rep. Matt Dubnik, R-Gainesville, presented Cooper with a flag flown at the Georgia Capitol and thanked him for his dedication.
“24 million minutes,” Dubnik said. “… There’s one thing that we can never make more, get more or buy more, and that’s time. Melvin, without a doubt, you have forged your heart and soul and career of time in this community, and we’re very thankful.”
And Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan read a proclamation and declared the day “Melvin Cooper Day.”
“This crowd, it shows you the appreciation everyone has for you and how much we love you,” Dunagan said.
John Simpson, chair of the Gainesville Parks and Recreation Board, also thanked Cooper.
“What Melvin Cooper has done is make generations like me, and all of the people my age that aren’t even 47 years old, say that you’ve put them somewhere,” Simpson said. “It’s our job to keep them there.”
A new youth sports complex the city will be developing will be named after Cooper to honor his work with the parks department. Plans for the complex include baseball fields, a playground and pavilion, trails and two fields that could be used for soccer, football or lacrosse.
Kate Mattison, previously a recreation services administrator in Dublin, Ohio, has been named the new parks director and will start working May 28. Cooper’s last day is May 31.