Recreation director Tedder leaves legacy

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 1, 2010

NATCHEZ — Colleagues say Ralph Tedder’s achievements as the city’s recreation director are nothing short of remarkable — and delicious.

During Tedder’s 17-year tenure, the city’s parks, playgrounds, ball fields, tennis courts and golf course have been rebuilt, renovated or expanded. He has secured $692,500 in grants and donations for recreation facilities, and he has witnessed the recreation budget rise from $698,399 in 1993 to $1,022,890 this fiscal year.

“People would say, ‘Here comes Tedder! Hide your wallet!’” Tedder said of his fundraising efforts. “I’ll ask anybody for anything for the parks.”

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Tedder will also bake anything for the parks, according to City Engineer David Gardner.

“He is an expert baker of lemon pies,” Gardner said. “He found out a long time ago the key to a successful project is through a man’s stomach.”

Tedder, 52, is resigning as recreation director effective Sept. 30. In his formal resignation letter to Mayor Jake Middleton and the Natchez Board of Aldermen, Tedder wrote, “I am leaving the Natchez Parks system in far better condition than I found it in 1993.” The sentence is underlined and italicized — for emphasis.

“I believed in and still believe in recreation after 25 years,” Tedder said. “But it’s time to pass the torch to someone young who will make their own accomplishments.”

Born and reared in Natchez, Tedder earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in parks and recreation administration from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1980 and 1984, respectively.

He began his recreation career as a park ranger at Hugh White State Park in Grenada in 1981. Tedder then worked as a program director for the Hattiesburg Recreation Department before becoming Natchez’s recreation director in 1984.

Tedder stepped down as recreation director the following year, and became the assistant recreation director in McComb in 1986. He was McComb’s recreation director from 1987 to 1989.

Tedder was a shophand at Kaiser Petroleum Co. and Adams County’s deputy coroner before returning as Natchez’s recreation director in August 1993. He will retire under Mississippi’s Public Employees’ Retirement System with 25 years of service.

“I’ve been planning to retire when I got my 25 years in regardless,” Tedder said. “I plan to stay in Natchez. I’m not going to a bigger job in a bigger city. It’s time for life to be a little easier.”

Mayor Jake Middleton, who once chaired the city’s recreation committee as an alderman, said Tedder’s retirement is well deserved.

“He’s the best recreation director we’ve ever had,” Middleton said. “He is very aware of what’s going on in his department, and he’s not shy about asking for corporate donations for things we didn’t have the funds to do.”

Tedder said his proudest achievement is revamping the city’s once dilapidated playgrounds. Most of the playground equipment Tedder used as a child had not been replaced when he returned to Natchez. Whirls, slides and monkey bars were covered in rust, and swing set frames were comprised of old wooden telephone poles.

“I pulled these playgrounds out of the dark ages,” Tedder said. “I feel like I moved the recreation movement forward in Natchez because it was way behind when I got here.”

The playgrounds are now equipped with modern equipment, including swings slides and Barney — a purple riding dinosaur.

Gardner said Tedder was also instrumental in building a sensor-operated water sprayground at North Natchez Park.

“I had no idea what a sprayground was, but after talking with Ralph, I knew everything there was to know about spraygrounds,” Gardner said.

“Ralph’s a go-getter and that’s what it takes on some of these hard projects. He goes after something and he doesn’t take no for an answer.

“One of the main things he’s accomplished, and he probably doesn’t realize he did this, is restore trust and confidence in that department,” Gardner said. He came in at a time when recreation was on shaky ground in the city, and he’s done a fantastic job.”

Tedder said his successor’s responsibility is to lead recreation into the 21st century as plans for a proposed recreation complex continue to blossom.

“Document all your work,” Tedder said, pointing to his bookshelves of color-coded binders. “And get support from all levels as you move forward.”

“Being a recreation director is kind of like being an attorney in court. You have to cover all your bases, and present your case and justifications.”

After Sept. 30, Tedder said the world will be his playground. He plans to go hunting, relax and eventually get back to work.

“I plan to work part-time,” Tedder said. “I’m ready for a job where I’m not in charge. I’d like to be a follower.”