After being a fixture at the Menomonie Recreation Department for almost four decades, Julie Stratton retired as the recreation department manager this past spring. Menomonie native Mitch Stai was hired to take her place and took over as the new manager in March.
"In my 37 years with the department, I worked at each position beginning as a clerk typist II, followed by recreation supervisor and finally recreation manager," said Stratton. "This allowed me to become very knowledgeable about the department and prepared me to take over as recreation manager."
In addition to developing and overseeing all of Menomonie's year-round recreation programming, the job also includes management of the Wakanda Waterpark and beach as well as the Leisure Services building. For each area, budgets must be developed based on revenues and expenses, and staff must be hired and trained. The department employs over 150 part-time staff plus three full-time employees.
The department handles park shelter and ball field reservations as well, even though the Parks Department moved under the Community Services Department during a restructuring in 2019.
Stratton listed several memorable accomplishments during her time as the recreation manager. Pickleball courts were added in Wakanda Park, and the Thursday Thrill Seekers, a program for adults with disabilities, was expanded. Last summer, the #2 ball diamond at Wakanda Park was renamed the Dave Howe Memorial Field, and a fan deck christened Toby's Deck in Howe's memory was constructed at the field.
Stai is excited to be taking over as manager. He grew up in Menomonie and participated in many recreation department programs when he was young. As a three-sport athlete at Menomonie High School, he also coached several youth recreation teams.
After graduating from MHS in 2014, Stai attended Bemidji State University in Northern Minnesota for Sports Management and followed that up with a Master's Degree in Business Administration.
During his junior year of college, Stai interned at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota, the largest youth sports facility in the world.
"That was when I knew I wanted to work in youth sports," said Stai. "Sports have played such a big part in my life and taught me so much. I'm very grateful to have the opportunity to give back to the programs that meant so much to me."
In her retirement, Stratton is looking forward to spending more time with her family, traveling, and enjoying her grandchildren.
"I have truly enjoyed my time working at the Menomonie Recreation Department and will miss the day-to-day contact with the public," said Stratton. "I have seen so many changes over the years, but I am still a firm believer that kids need to be active and have the chance to build skills at a young age without the pressure of the competitive leagues."
Stai agrees that focusing on developing youth sports programming is an essential part of the recreation department.
"Kids learn so much in youth sports - teamwork, resiliency, responsibility, all important life skills," said Stai. "Plus, it's an opportunity to meet kids from the other schools and build lifelong friendships."
Stai is still active in sports, participating in volleyball and bean bag leagues in Menomonie. He also enjoys hunting and fishing in his spare time.
The Menomonie Recreation Department is located at the city-owned Leisure Services Center, which also houses the Shirley Doane Senior Center.