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Parks and Recreation welcomes new director
This story originally appeared in the Winter 2019 Hometown Messenger
When I arrived to interview Shakopee’s new Parks and Recreation Director, I was greeted by Jay Tobin saying, “It’s beautiful outside. Let’s take a drive and do this interview over at Tahpah Park.”
So, we drove to the park and stopped at Joe Schleper Stadium.
“Isn’t this place spectacular?” he remarked about the stadium. “I admire the drive and determination it took for the community to build and maintain something like this.”
I asked Jay how he ended up in Shakopee as the city’s Parks and Recreation Director. He explained his philosophy of “everything is about lessons learned” - ideas, thoughts and experiences gathered from previous positions. Tobin’s experiences, it turns out, are nothing short of incredible.
After growing up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin, Tobin decided to enlist in the Marine Corps at age 17. During the 80s, he served at the American Embassy in London, as well as was stationed in Cairo. After six years with the Marines, Jay transitioned to the Army, where he was commissioned as an officer and served in Germany, Kosovo and the Balkans.
“On Sept. 11th, 2001, I was a Brigade Logistics Officer in the 1st Infantry Division and like everyone else my world changed forever," he remembered.
In 2003, Tobin was deployed to Iraq. He oversaw construction of key infrastructure around Ramadi. “It was really satisfying to be involved in making people’s lives better,” Tobin said. He led a team that built 24 schools, 17 medical clinics and four police stations.
Following the 2003 tour, Jay completed several other assignments until 2011, when he was injured in an airborne operation, “but I wasn’t ready to hang things up, yet,” he said.
He moved into garrison operations at Fort Campbell near Kentucky. There, he worked to provide programs and services to soldiers, their family members and retirees in a community of 70,000. Jay’s team was instrumental in instituting new programs, including one called Family 101 which helped returning soldiers cope with the stresses of reintegration after combat. The program helped reduce domestic violence, alcohol abuse and even divorce at the military base.
Jay decided to retire from the military in 2016. “My oldest daughter was almost in high school, and I was away from my family for nearly 29 weeks a year,” he explained. He and his wife decided to move to Minnesota, where they both had family. “And what really attracted us was the parks and trail systems," Tobin said.
Tobin was hired as the City of Chaska’s finance manager. While he appreciated the opportunity, he quickly found that he missed interacting with the public. When the opening in Shakopee became available, he applied for the job. “It was a dream job for me," he said. "It’s clear there’s a premium on transparency in this city. There’s high value in innovation and a great team with a legacy of success. I just couldn’t pass that up.”
Jay started his position on Oct. 1. Trips like the one today to Joe Schleper Stadium aren’t unusual for him. “We’ve implemented something I call ‘field trip Friday’ with my staff,” Tobin explained. “I take team members to different parks around the city and talk about how we can do things more efficiently.”
These small fixes lead to an improved Parks and Recreation program, one which is more equipped to provide value to all Shakopee residents. “Whether you’re a kid learning a sport for the first time, a parent needing a break for an hour or an older active adult navigating a new stage of life, we’re here to provide something for you,” Tobin said. “That’s what we’re all about.”