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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Retiring Spokane park director Leroy Eadie was the first in his family to go to college. He pushed his mom to get a degree, too.

Spokane Parks & Recreation Director Leroy Eadie has retried after two decades of service with the city. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Spending his childhood between Northern California trailer communities and the Colville Reservation, Leroy Eadie said he’s picked almost every fruit he can think of. His favorite however, will always be apricots.

Slicing apricots and leaving them out in the California sun was his first job at age 13. Now at 51, Eadie is retiring after spending more than two decades in Spokane city government, including a decade leading Spokane’s Parks and Recreation Department.

Eadie was the first in his family to go to college. He also encouraged his mother, Dorothy Cleveland Hamner, to stay in school.

She’s now 71, and a designated crisis responder for Catholic Charities in Wenatchee. She left high school as a sophomore but went to college in her 40s.

“I’m kind of jealous,” she said. “He’s retiring and I’m still working.”

Eadie was brought in to lead the Spokane park department in 2009 as an interim director after the previous director resigned after only 18 months on the job and another was fired. He first joined the city in 1994 and became planning director in 2007.

He said the parks department was “shell shocked” after two years of constantly changing leadership. He said the work he did to bring the branches of government together and build relationships with staff is one of his biggest accomplishments as parks director.

“At times, the politics can be tough, there are those tensions, but there are wonderful people in City Hall and that’s what really kept me motivated,” he said.

Former Park Board member Steven McNutt, who left the board because of term limits after Eadie was hired, said the revolving door of directors left parkstaff feeling like they were on a roller coaster. He said Eadie was able to work with the mayor’s administration, the park board and the staff on their visions for the department and the future of Riverfront Park.

“It was a tough balancing act, but he did it pretty well.”

Hamner, Eadie’s mother, said she believes her children’s nomadic upbringing and their heritage have given them a special connection to the outdoors and others.

“He believes in the creator and taking care of the Earth, and I think that is his biggest asset,” she said.

Eadie said he went to 13 different schools growing up before graduating from Okanogan High School. He attended Spokane Community College before leaving for the Army, where he spent two years and was called back for Operation Desert Storm. Eadie said he was never sent to the desert and spent his last five months in the military in New York doing cold-weather training.

He graduated from Eastern Washington University with a degree in planning in 1993.

Eadie said he considered free swimming at Spokane’s public pools, the redevelopment of Riverfront Park, and improved relationships with the Spokane Tribe of Indians to be a few of the park department’s biggest accomplishments under his leadership.

Free swimming for children was a long tradition in Spokane until the Park Board decided just months before Eadie was named park director that children should pay to swim because new pools were costing more to operate than had been predicted.

He said free swimming, which cost the parks department about $200,000 a year in forgone revenue, broke down a barrier for children in many of Spokane’s poorer neighborhoods. It also drastically increased the number of people who used the city’s pools.

Eadie said one example of the parks’ improved relationship with the Spokane Tribe was the renaming of Canada Island to a Salish name, “snxw mene” (pronounced sin-HOO-men-huh). He said previous city leaders had attempted to work with all the tribes in the area, instead of just the Spokanes.

Eadie said even if he wasn’t a member of a tribe, he would have tried to include the Spokanes in conversations about the area’s outdoor spaces.

“It’s their ancestral land,” he said.

Many of the projects Eadie worked on, such as the Sister Cities Garden and the Promenade will be completed this summer. Eadie said he plans to go on a long backpacking trip for much of the summer, but hopes to return for their grand openings.

He said he was proud of his contributions to Riverfront Park, but he doesn’t want to take away from the community, Park Board and staff’s contributions.

“It’s not my legacy project, I was just lucky to get a chance to work on it,” he said. “I feel like I brought some skill sets, but it’s a community project.”

Eadie said retirement, and moving to Portland, means he’ll have to leave his folk, blues and rock band, Smackout Pack, but he will get to spend more time with his 26-year-old son Grant Eadie, who is also a musician.

The younger Eadie is the artist behind music project Manatee Commune and has performed at Sasquatch! and Bonnaroo music festivals.

During his retirement, Eadie said he may start a natural dog-food company, teach, consult or open a restaurant. He said one of his three dogs, a terrier named Penny has diabetes and needs a high protein diet. If he sells the dog food he makes for his family’s pets, he’ll probably start selling it in Portland farmers markets.

Eadie said retiring in his 50s gives him a chance to pursue interests he didn’t have time for while he was parks director and allows rising stars in the parks department to have a chance at leadership.

He said he doesn’t plan on living in Portland forever though, once he finishes his second career in Portland, he hopes to return to Spokane for another retirement.

“I really enjoyed living here and I raised my son here,” he said. “Spokane is just getting better and better.”