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Missouri city names community center after Russellville man

Years after beginning his career in Russellville City Schools as a teacher and coach, Tom Lovell still looks back fondly on the time he and his family called Russellville home. When he discovered his passion for community recreation as Russellville’s first parks and rec director, he likely never imagined what was in store for him later in life: having a community center named in his honor.

Sept. 12, 2019, the Parks and Recreation department of Lee’s Summit, Mo., renamed and dedicated the former Legacy Park Community Center as J. Thomas Lovell Jr. Community Center at Legacy Park – in honor of Lovell, the LSPR’s former administrator.

According to a press release announcing the honor, Lovell served as administrator of LSPR for 38 years, from 1979-2017. Under his leadership, LSPR grew from 12 staff members to 42 full-time employees, hundreds of part-time and seasonal employees and an equal number of contractors. LSPR’s open space inventory grew from 250 acres to more than 1,200 acres, and he helped develop 77 miles of trails, 30 neighborhood parks, three community centers and a water park.

“This is such a surprise and special honor to have this flagship facility renamed after me,” Lovell said. “LPCC has served the community and has substantiated the beliefs in the value of our parks and recreation system in its provision of benefits to improve health and well-being. I am humbled and would like to thank all the people who dedicated their time to the development of the parks and recreation system and those who worked on the community center.”

During his time in Russellville in the early 1970s, after he had graduated from the University of Montevallo in 1971, Lovell worked for Principal Thomas Franks and Superintendent Rube Courington, “who taught me many great life lessons, as well as did Mayor Ralph and Dot Bishop,” Lovell said. It was Bishop who named Lovell the Parks and Rec director for Russellville. “With this opportunity I found a life passion for a career. In this job I found other great teachers in Claude and Ann Sparks and David Walters, who taught me perhaps the most valuable lessons,” Lovell added.

Sparks, as longtime Russellville residents will recall, was at that time the owner and publisher of the Franklin County Times, and Walters was a reporter for the paper.

“Many times in my career I found myself remembering and using those early career lessons,” Lovell said. “I now affectionately call Russellville the university where I got my PhD in working with people, government, business and the ‘fourth estate.’”

As the newly-named community center was unveiled to the public, Lee’s Summit officials had nothing but good things to say about Lovell and his service to his community.

“Tom Lovell was the driving force behind the successes and accomplishments of LSPR for 38 years,” said Joe Snook, current LSPR administrator. “I cannot think of a more appropriate way to honor his legacy then to name our flagship community center after Mr. Lovell.”

Tyler Morehead, LSPR’s Park Board president agreed, adding, “The renaming of the community center is a true tribute to Tom and creates a legacy honoring his contributions and vision for the betterment of Lee’s Summit for close to 40 years. The Board could not think of a better acknowledgement than to rededicate the first community center that Tom worked so hard to bring to reality in his name.”

Legacy Park and LPCC came to fruition from a 3/8-cent sales tax passed in 1998. The need for a community center was identified in the “Legacy For Tomorrow” strategic plan, and in 2003 LPCC opened for public use.

The 58,000 square foot facility offers amenities including a natatorium, gymnasium with two full-sized courts, cardio and strength training area, two racquetball courts and much more.

Under Lovell’s leadership, the LSPR went on to win the National Parks and Recreation Association’s National Gold Medal Award and become accredited in 2003. It was reaccredited in 2008 and 2013.

The LSPR credits much of its success to Lovell, who in turn credits the Alabama city where he got his start.

“We would not have been able to be a productive part of Lee’s Summit without the influence of Russellville, Ala., on our lives,” said Lovell, who now serves as president of Lovell & Associates and remains involved in community activities.

Lovell and his wife Susan celebrated their 50th anniversary last year. They have two children: daughter Mason and her two children, Emma and Ethan, and son John and his twin daughters.