Baker Honored for Leadership and Contribution

Holly Baker at the Young Professionals Award Ceremony.

Talk to anyone in the city who knows Holly Baker and they will speak of an inner light that spreads far beyond her role as assistant director of the South Burlington Recreation and Parks Department (SBRPD). For years, Baker’s enthusiasm, dedication, and contributions have been seen by residents throughout the city on a regular basis. In recognition of her efforts, Baker was recently honored with the Young Professional Award, given in May, by the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association (VRPA). The award, introduced in 2005, recognizes professionals who exhibit leadership and creativity while making significant contributions. SBRPD Director Maggie Leugers says, “Holly is an outstanding professional in every way. She is incredibly vested in the department and community at large.”

Baker received the award at the annual VRPA meeting held this year in Stowe. She says, “I am thrilled to be recognized by my peers in this capacity, as we have an outstanding group of recreation and parks professionals in Vermont. Although receiving the recognition is lovely, most meaningful to me are the words of recommendation that were shared by those I live, work, and play with. I will forever be touched by their kindness and [will] attempt to live up to their praise.”

Baker knows the city’s rec department inside and out, after all, she is a South Burlington native and took part in SBRPD programs as a kid. When asked if she has a favorite memory from those days, Baker recalled playing in the recreation softball league when her father was umpiring one of her games. “He called me out on the third strike. I have never been one to hold a grudge, but that one has stuck with me for oh, about thirty years now,” she says. Exercising her well-known playful personality, Baker adds, “Just kidding, I love you, Dad!”

Next for Baker at the recreation department was a four-hour a day job as playgroup leader at the Rick Marcotte Central School, when she was 16 years old. Remembering her days on the playground, she says, “I loved it from day one! What could be better than playing all day and getting paid for it?”

Her full time career at SBRPD began when she took on the role of program supervisor, which she describes as “spending most of the time out in the field running soccer, field hockey, basketball and the like.” Baker, who has an infectious enthusiastic nature, says, “ I love being with people and forming those lasting connections with the families of this community; that has always been my favorite part of the job.” She notes that since she is less visible in her current role as Assistant Director, she misses the day-to-day community contact. “But I know that what I do supports these same programs in a different way.”

A self-described public servant, Baker is fervent about the department’s “charge to provide exemplary service.” Leugers says of Baker, “Everyone knows her and respects her professionalism, her listening skills, and getting the job done in an excellent manner.” Baker adds, “I love being in the middle of things, but we have an amazing staff who are better qualified than I to run our programs and do an exceptional job. I am just proud to be part of our team!”

According to South Burlington High School Athletic Director Ed Hockenbury, no one works harder than Baker, “She seems to be everywhere! And the presence of her smiling face and endlessly positive attitude can’t help but brighten your day.” Hockenbury goes on to note that while Baker might deflect any attention she gets for receiving this award, she is particularly deserving in light of the impact she has had on the recreation department during a time of transition, saying “Holly has been the rock, adding new responsibilities to her job, assisting others with theirs and through it all, keeping everything on track while maintaining a leadership presence that has provided stability and consistency. Holly is also eager to entertain new ideas and programs and her sincere desire to positively impact the lives of South Burlington community members has been evident in each of the many interactions we have had.”

In 2014, Baker received the Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP) certification. According to NRPA, attaining the CPRP designation shows that the candidate has met education and experience qualifications, and illustrated a commitment to the profession as well as a knowledge and understanding of key concepts within parks and recreation. Leugers adds, “It demonstrates a passionate commitment to our profession.”

Former SBRPD Director and current Director of the Williston Recreation and Parks Department, Todd Goodwin is also a big fan of Baker’s contribution to South Burlington, noting, “Holly Baker is an amazing young professional that has the ability to work with all ages and provide experiences that make people feel special.” Goodwin worked with Baker from the beginning. “She was an amazing leader and stepped into the administrative role without skipping a beat. She took on this new role and ran an amazing day camp. The staff loved to have her as their leader. Holly later came back to us, in 2012, as the program supervisor and her maturity and experience brought South Burlington a lot of new ideas and a welcomed level of professionalism.”

Baker says she is proud to call South Burlington home. Along with her husband Matt and four children, her family is often seen at events throughout the community. Whether watching or participating in sports at Veterans Memorial Park, or managing or participating in a rec department event, Baker never seems to stop. She is also a middle school mentor and attends many PTO and committee meetings.

“I cannot think of anyone more worthy of the VRPA Outstanding Young Professional Award than Holly Baker,” says Susie Merrick, adding, “She has earned a well-deserved reputation as someone who listens, who cares, and who fully believes in the vital necessity of recreation department programming that honors community members of all ages.” Merrick, who is the South Burlington School District Mentoring Coordinator, speaks of Baker’s ability to connect and communicate, “I have watched her interact with our community’s senior citizens, with our high school students, and with her mentee, who is an elementary school student. She is consistent with this wide variety of ages in her thoughtful communication and her ability to bring out the best in people.”

In 2013, Baker stepped into the position of assistant director, which she holds today. South Burlington Deputy City Manager Tom Hubbard, who was one of the many who recommended Baker for the award, noted that Baker’s increased management roles with the recreation department have offered her new challenges, continued personal growth, and professional leadership development. “Holly has the confidence to lead and the good sense to be open-minded and a good listener- all character traits which create a great balance for any public employee! Her strong yet patient leadership style certainly compliments her work.” He adds, “Holly has taken on much more than what was expected. She did so with class, without reservation, and with fortitude to keep the department running as efficiently and effectively as possible and basically managing the department on her own for a period of time.”

Baker credits many mentors in her life and career, but begins, rightly so, with her parents. “They are two amazing people who continue to model the importance of kindness and love as measures of success.” In regard to what she calls recreation mentors, she reports being fortunate to count four, Tom Hubbard, Todd Goodwin, Betsy Terry, and Maggie Leugers, all of whom have been her Director’s of Recreation over her career. Baker teases, “I joked with them, saying that in my five years of service to this city, I had exhausted three of them! Maggie is like the energizer bunny, so I am still working on her!”

Reflecting on the Young Professional Award, Baker shares that it has allowed her to take a moment to consider the change one person can make, “I am a true believer that a small drop can produce a big wave,” she says. “I knew that I would forever be involved in some way with life-long recreation, but in what capacity I wasn’t sure. I have bounced around in senior housing service coordination for years, before finding my way back to my true home, municipal recreation.” The City of South Burlington is glad she did. Leugers perfectly captures Baker’s sensibility when she says, “Her creativity, fun, and positive attitude is infectious. Holly is everything we aspire to be in our profession.”

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