Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore announces resignation after 27 years with city | PostIndependent.com
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Rifle Parks and Recreation Director Tom Whitmore announces resignation after 27 years with city

Tom Whitmore at a project site.
Submitted/Austin Rickstrew

One day, in June 2020, city staff were filling water in sections at the Rifle Metro Pool when Tom Whitmore warned everyone to mind where they were dragging the hoses. Someone could trip and fall in, he worried.

He was wearing a collared shirt and jeans when he went to work that day. Moments later, however, that getup changed dramatically. He tried yanking on one of the hoses, and, unfortunately, he fell directly into the kids’ pool, Rifle Parks and Recreation Assistant Director Austin Rickstrew said.

“He went all the way in,” Rickstrew said with a laugh. “He had to go home and change clothes, and I just cracked up because he came back in a Hawaiian shirt.



“It was very fitting.”

That’s the kind of guy Whitmore, Rifle’s longtime parks and recreation department director, is to people like Rickstrew.



This perhaps explains why a standing ovation from colleagues and city leaders filled Rifle City Council chambers on Sept. 21 as everyone ushered in Whitmore’s announcement to officially resign from the city. The municipal veteran served Rifle for 27 years.

“It was a real honor,” Whitmore said. “I was kind of in a loss for words.”

Tom Whitmore smiles while working at a Independence Day celebration in Rifle.
Subbmitted/Austin Rickstrew

Many say Rifle’s abundant parks and recreational amenities seen today wouldn’t exist had it not been for him. Finding funds when otherwise can’t be found and his foresight to maintain projects after they materialized are some of the reasons why.

“I would say there are people (who) are better at that than I am,” Whitmore said. “But, I feel like I was a good fit for the job because I could help get things by when there wasn’t a lot of funds, but we were successful.

“I’m kind of better at dealing with randomness because it can kind of clear your schedule.”

In 1995, he took a job as Rifle parks supervisor after teaching vocational agriculture for 10 years at Rifle High School. It wasn’t until 2013 that Whitmore would become the full time parks and recreation director.

Back in the 1990s, the parks and recreation department began operating out of a tiny shack at the Rifle Cemetery, employing just four people.

Garfield County Commissioner Mike Samson is a former Rifle High School history teacher who worked with Whitmore and distinctly remembers that shack and how he found himself working out of it, too.

A former Bears varsity baseball coach, years ago, Samson remembered noticing just how dry and beat up Rifle’s old Gordon Cooper Field was. Naturally, he began watering the field.

Tom Whitmore snaps a photo at Deerfield Park.
Submitted/Austin Rickstrew

It was then Whitmore pulled up in a city work truck and asked him what the heck he was doing. Then, quickly thinking, he asked Samson to help mow city lawns over the summer.

“He was like the lone guy trying to do all the work on all the lawns,” Samson said of Whitmore. “You’ve got to remember, you’ve got the cemetery, you’ve got the ball fields, you’ve got the parks. He had very little help.”

Samson would go on to mow lawns for Rifle for the next 11 years.

“One of the things I admire the most about Tom is, he’s one of these guys (who) would never ask you to do something that he hasn’t done many times already or wouldn’t do himself,” he said. “He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty. He’s a worker.”

The city has since said goodbye to the old Cooper field and replaced it with the diamonds at Deerfield Park. Rifle Parks and Recreation migrated from its cemetery shack to a modern office building. The former cement hole held together with duct tape called the Art Dague Pool is now the multifaceted Rifle Metro Pool.

Rifle Parks and Recreation Department Director Tom Whitmore studies a bulb.
Submitted/Austin Rickstrew

Former Rifle City Council Member Theresa Hamilton said Whitmore has been a large part behind the great recreational facilities and improvements like these throughout Rifle.

“The amount of parks that we have for our city are comparable to cities much larger than Rifle, and Tom has been integral in the development of those facilities and the maintenance of those facilities,” she said. “It’s one thing to say that you’ve got a lot of parks, but you’ve got great parks that are maintained as well as ours. That takes a lot more time and energy and effort.”

LOOKING BACK

Monday morning was sunny, and Deerfield Park looked like it belonged in the Field of Dreams. 

Whitmore sat in the lobby of the Rifle Parks and Recreation office, which straddles Deerfield Park, and said he had already finished taking down the artwork in his office.

“This is one of my last days, and I still talk about everything in terms of what we’re going to do next year,” he said. “It’s kind of weird after you’ve been involved with something for 27 years to all of a sudden realize you’re not going to be touching that anymore.”

He is a native of Burlington, on the eastern plains of Colorado. He’s soon leaving with his longtime wife, Lisa, to be closer to grandchildren in western Kansas. This way he won’t have a weather-induced bipolar barrier like Glenwood Canyon blocking him, he joked.

Rifle Parks and Recreation Department Director Tom Whitmore hard at work.
Submitted/Austin Rickstrew

But, still, he continued to think of future projects. Namely, the city’s trying to put up a public park on Birch Avenue, and Whitmore immediately went into how they’ve solicited for an architectural firm for its design.

“It was something I thought I’d get to see through a little bit more,” he said. “But, things in my life changed, and, of course, our assistant Parks and Recreation director, Austin Rickstrew, is very capable. I’m probably more excited about his opportunity and him getting to have his hands on it.”

Rickstrew said Whitmore is going to be missed and that “he’s leaving some big shoes to fill,” and that “he’s been a huge mentor to me. 

“Tom’s a huge asset to have with me and my career and progressing,” he said. “He just gives you the freedom to do things your way.”

Looking back, Whitmore can cite some of his most prized accomplishments. This includes keeping the Rifle Metro Pool open devoid of illnesses during COVID-19 or helping diminish what used to be 50-60 calls of misgivings per month to maybe one or two, he said.

One thing he’s truly honored by, however, was getting invited to speak at the funeral of former Rifle co-worker, Frankie Shaw.

“That made me feel pretty special,” Whitmore said. “And, it was quite an honor that they would ask me to do that.” 

Tom Whitmore during one of his last days on the job inside his office on Monday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

But, as the future awaits, he wants the city and its residents to continue to trust Rifle’s Parks and Recreation Department, and he’s more than confident that will happen.

“I’d like people to continue to work together and treat each other like you have a partnership and not like your adversaries,” he said. “I think that’s one of the things I’ve most enjoyed is, I feel like we have a working relationship with everybody we work with.”

A send-off party is slated for Whitmore at the Ute Theater in Rifle from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Oct. 12. The Ute Theater is located at 132 East 4th St.

Tom Whitmore and his former goatee and mustache attend a work function back in 2008.
Submitted/Austin Rickstrew

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