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BCHS presents the remarkable 75 year history of Bulloch County Recreation & Parks Department

Members of the Bulloch County Historical Society walked back in time to learn how the Bulloch County Recreation and Parks Department began. Anyone who has enjoyed the Recreation Department will enjoy learning more about its storied history. Others will love this walk back down memory lane. Click on the picture to read the full story.
Joe McGlamery (standing) L-R: Frank Hook, Robert Tanner and Ed Nelson

The monthly meeting for the Bulloch County Historical Society was held on Monday, February 26, at Pittman Park UMC Fellowship Hall. The program began at 11:30 am, where the topic was "History of the Bulloch County Parks and Recreation Department," and the presenters were Joe McGlamery, Frank Hook, Robert Tanner, and Ed Nelson.

This year is the 75th Anniversary of the Bulloch County Recreation and Parks.

  • Frank Hook is a former director.
  • Robert Tanner was the first kid to sign up on April 1, 1948 at Fair Road Recreation Center for activities as well as a former employee.
  • Ed Nelson retired as Operations Director for Bulloch Parks.

Joe McGlamery led the program showing old photographs and news stories and asking each of the three panelists questions. They opened the program by asking for anyone in the audience to stand if they worked at the Recreation Department.

In attendance were:

  • Mark Simms
  • Deborah Thompson
  • Roy Thompson
  • Charles Webb
  • Billy Yawn

Max Lockwood, a WWII Vet was hired as the first director at a salary of $3,000 per year. He was the first full time recreation director for a city as small as Statesboro.

This program was a wonderful walk down memory lane for everyone in attendance. Below are highlights of the program, which are certain to bring back wonderful memories for many of you.

A delicious southern fried chicken lunch was catered by A Touch of Class catering.

Capacity crowd at the Historical Society meeting. DeWayne Grice

The beginnings

Frank Hook shared how the Recreation Department came about:

"Honey Bowen didn't take no for an answer. In 1946, she had a vision to create something to take care of families and young people through the recreation department. Bill Bowen, her husband, was on the City Council. They ate breakfast together every morning. One morning, Honey told Bill it was time for him to get to the office. Little did he know that Honey Bowen would show up at his office for a meeting at 9 AM that morning. 

When he asked what she was doing there, she responded, 'Bill, I am here on business. We do not discuss business at home. This is business, not a family matter.  We are going to start a rec department and need $3,000. He responded by saying that we don't have that kind of money in the City. She told him to find it. That is how it began. Honey was the pioneer of fun. She had a slogan that was on all the department letterhead, 'Our investment in our youth, is our voice to our future.'"

  • A sweet lady named Mattie Tanner took her son Robert Tanner by the hand on his fifth birthday on April 1, 1948, and signed him up for a program at the department. He was the first child to be enrolled for activities at the Recreation Department.  
  • Max Lockwood was an energetic leader for the Rec Department. He had to beat the bushes to find money wherever he could. He was speaking to the Rotary Club of Statesboro when they committed $2,000 to the department. That money was instrumental in forming the department.
  • 022624-bchs-rec-collage
    Collage of images through the years. DeWayne Grice


Playground, snack shack, and zoo

Robert Tanner reminisced about the original playground, which consisted of a rope over a sand pile, boxing gloves, and a ball field. They added clay basketball courts later on. He recalled they had children's games and clubs for kids of all ages. The Zoo included a peacock, birds, rabbits, squirrels, and a monkey named Jigs.  

  • The singular field handled all sporting events: football, basketball, baseball, and softball.
  • Adult leagues were added later including church leagues. 
  • "The church leagues would start with prayer, and in the third inning, the devil showed up because everyone wanted to win," said Tanner.
  • The snack shack had a TV and snack bar, along with ping pong tables and movies for kids. Robbins Packing would furnish hot dogs. It was a popular place to be. 
  • The Pavalon was always a favorite. Max built it after the pool was built.  
  • It was called the "Pavalon" because J.I. Clements' son mispronounced 'pavilion' and it stuck.
  • WWNS would do a remote and on Friday nights, and they had bands.
  • The Cyclones, a local band which was also mispronounced as cy-lones (which stuck as well), played there often.
  • The pool was the center of activities after it opened.

Frank Hook recalled:

  • Statesboro Recreation Department T-Shirt was the staff shirt. Today he still runs into people that remember these T-Shirts. You were issued that T-Shirt on the first day of employment. Many said they would have worked for free to receive the T-Shirt. They shared this with the pride instilled in them for getting to work for the department.
  • When the recreation department was established, only 10 cities had a recreation department in Georgia. It was very rare for a small city.  Statesboro started a program that many said would never last and be successful.  Over the years, many cities larger than Statesboro came to visit to learn from them.
  • The department continues to be recognized as one of the best small city programs in the entire southeast. It has been and continues to be a model program.
  • The second year in operation, they built the pool. It cost $50,000 to put the pool in.
    • Shortly before 5pm on June 1st, 1949, it opened. Jimmy Jones was the first person to jump into the pool, and tens of thousands followed him through the years. 
  • December 1951 brought the first city budget to support recreation at $10,000.
  • In 1960, Blitch Street pool was added.
  • In 1964, the Community building at the Blitch Street pool was remodeled, and Luetta Moore ran the program there.
  • The City saw the need to establish services at the Blitch Street Center, and they tapped Luettea Moore to run it.
  • Swimming lessons were 10 cents.
  • If you worked for 10 hours, you would get a year's pass.
  • They had a school bus that brought kids from Brooklet to the park for swimming lessons.
  • Mom would give them an extra 25 cents to get snacks from the Pavalon.
  • The pool was open in the afternoons from 1:30 to 5:30 and again from 7 to 10 in the evening.
  • Max was like a dad to many of the kids.

Robert Tanner worked at the recreation department until 1970. “Statesboro could not have had leaders any better than the ones I worked with at the department and that continues through today,” said Tanner.

The Jaycee Field at the Rec Center was added in 1967. Three former Jaycees who were in the Jaycees at the time were in the audience including:  

  • Robert Tanner
  • Rodney Harville
  • Edwin Akins

The Jaycees little league field is still there today. 

Rodney Harville brought the first baseball used at Jaycee Field. It is signed by many involved with bringing this to fruition.

Rodney Harville holding the first baseball used on Jaycee Field . DeWayne Grice

The Fishing Rodeo

The fishing rodeo was started by Robbins Packing Company and the Recreation department at Robbins Lake the first Saturday in May.

Robbins was established in 1949 by Mr. Marion Robbins and Charlie Robbins, his son. Cindy Robbins Moore, Charlie's daughter, was in the audience. It was recognized across the S.E. United States as one of the premiere rec programs.   

Robbins partnered in 1954 with the department to establish the fishing rodeo. Girls and boys from grades 1-7 could fish with cane poles only and crickets and worms only. They could enter at 8:45am to pick a spot, and at 10am, they would fire the starting gun and each youngster would be allowed to put hooks in the water. At 11am, it ended and prizes were given.  

In 1977, Honey Bowen and Frank Hook, who was the director, were invited to go to Biloxi, Mississippi, to present a program on the success of the Fishing Rodeo at a conference. In the largest year, they had 3,000 participants, and over 6,000 hot dogs were served.

Marion Brantley of Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair Pancake fame was the official weigher.

Mill Creek Regional Park and Splash

"Vision and progressiveness is one reason why I came in 1979 to accept a job at Bulloch County Recreation and Parks,” said Ed Nelson. Mill Creek Park and Splash in the Boro specifically were visionary projects.

  • Mike Rollins and County leaders had a vision to have an aquatics center for other counties.  
  • In 2002 SPLOST was approved to fund Splash, and in 2004 opened the gates at Splash.
  • 90,000 visited the first year.
  • In 2009, they added the mat racer, FlowRider, and additional concessions. 
  • In 2016 - 2017, they put in a wave pool.
  • 150,000 patrons visited last year.

All of the speakers agreed that over 75 years later, the Bulloch County Recreation and Parks Department continues to be a model department for the entire country.

Keep Bulloch History Alive | Become a member of the Bulloch County Historical Society today!

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