Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department Recreation Director Stephanie Schaefer (R) and administrative assistant Heather Vogts look over the recreation guide at the Parks office Thursday morning. Schaefer took over as recreation director in August and says she loves her job. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department Recreation Director Stephanie Schaefer (R) and administrative assistant Heather Vogts look over the recreation guide at the Parks office Thursday morning. Schaefer took over as recreation director in August and says she loves her job. Photo by David Slone, Times-Union.
Stephanie Schaefer loves going to her job as the recreation director for Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department.

She loves planning the events and concerts. She loves interacting with families, especially the children. She loves making other people happy.

“I think that it’s everything that I thought it would be just because I knew what Sheila was doing because I was a part of it. I think it’s going really well. It is different being in this position because I’m not seeing some of the families that are coming in to pick up those Imagination Station kits, and I knew that would be hard for me because I love being around people. But I still get to plan the events and to be at them. And to see smiles on children’s faces, and keeping programs free and low cost is something that is very important to me,” she said in an interview Thursday.

Her first day as recreation director was Aug. 16, taking over from Sheila Wieringa, who left for a position elsewhere. Schaefer, who turned 50 recently, had served as Wieringa’s assistant for three years, and before that was the Mantis Skate Park supervisor since spring 2007.

“I felt like because of the knowledge and experience I had in several areas, that it was a good fit,” Schaefer said of why she sought the position. “As her assistant, I was helping her with every concert, every program. All of the events, I was already there, so it was just taking that next step to kind of learn what it takes budgetwise, contractwise, and then I thought, after I got past those few little hurdles, that I was a good fit for that.”

Being the recreation director isn’t all fun and games, though Schaefer says she enjoys going to her job so much, she often gets to work early.

“I contract vendors for programs, and I set all of the budget dollar amounts for each and every program and event that we do. I work with the (administrative) assistant (Heather Vogts), which used to be me, just brainstorming new ideas and looking at how we want to change programs to make things better and more exciting from year to year. And then working with the other staff,” Schaefer said. “I think when you have a good team, it makes the rec director’s job easier, moving forward with changing things. Heather and I have a good working relationship, and I think she was a good fit for taking over my old position, too, because she knew a lot about the parks, obviously.”

As of the Thursday, Schaefer was working on sponsorships for the programming.

“We can’t do a lot of these events and programs without having great sponsors donating time and money,” she said.

One big change Schaefer will be implementing is something many people have been asking for, she said.

“Right now, we are working on adding food trucks to the Summer Concert Series. So one food truck per concert. I think that is something we always wanted to do, but I think COVID made us change a lot of things and we just weren’t able to do it, so that’s one big change,” she said.

A few of the children’s programs also will be changed around, “bringing in contracted people to inform kids on what that program would look like for nature or science.” A few program names were changed because of what is being added to them, she said.

Schaefer is working on the concert series and who she is going to bring in next year. She thinks that will be fun.

The last two summers, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the three big concerts were cancelled. Those included the country, blues and barbecue and the rock concert. Schaefer said they are planning to bring those back in 2022.

“I’ve actually talked to a few different businesses in town that are looking at donating money as a sponsor to bring those back,” she said. “(Parks Superintendent) Larry (Plummer) and I are planning on having those, along with the radio station.”

While the big concerts are held at Glover Pavilion in Central Park, the Warsaw Parks System has a total of 19 parks of various sizes. This past summer, Schaefer said they’ve added Slip ’N’ Slide to Kelly Park, but she plans on using more of the parks for events than they have used in the past.

“I feel like when you plan events and programs at those, it shows the community  what else there is to offer than keeping things more at Central Park, where I feel like in the past most of the bigger events are always there,” she said.

This past summer, some of the Summer Concert Series was held at the newly renovated amphitheater at Lucerne Park. Schaefer said it was great because “it’s very relaxing, very pretty” and boaters were able to listen from their boats on Pike Lake.

“I think it’s important to do things like that,” she said.

Some of the new parks have new playground equipment, or will have in the coming years.

“Things that people can walk to” from their homes, she said, is important. “If you keep everything at the same park, you’re missing out on other areas.”

While Schaefer still needs to present her idea to the library, she said she’d love to have story times at different parks so families can walk to them and enjoy “something different.”

If any business or person wants to sponsor an event, Schaefer said they can just reach out to her. The Parks Department has a sponsorship guide and commitment form.

“We’ve sent out roughly 300 of those already. We’ve had some good response back. Every couple of days, I’m getting a new one in the mail where people are committing to sponsoring programs and events,” she said.

This year, Schaefer said they’ve had a few new sponsors reach out to them. They didn’t just sponsor one program or event, but multiple ones. Another sponsor tripled what they had given before.

Schaefer worked for Warsaw Community Schools for 12 years. She remembers hearing children talk about not getting to go on vacations or travel.

“So if we can have really good things right here in our community, that’s what makes me happy. Making other people happy. So I think this job is a good fit for me for those reasons because I get to dream big and have those families and children come to things,” Schaefer said. “I love coming to work. Sometimes I’m here before I’m supposed to be just because I love coming here and planning those things for families.”

Upcoming events include take-home kits for Imagination Station, Nov. 15, with pick-up from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Pete Thorn Center, free; Paint in the Park, Nov. 19, 6:30 p.m., Fireman’s Building; Gingerbread Workshop, Dec. 11, 10 a.m., Center Lake Pavilion; and Light Up the Night, Dec. 3, 6 to 8 p.m., Central Park, with the first 500 kids receiving a goodie bag and glow necklace.

“We planned these a year ago. I’m actually working into 2023 right now. So we’re always far ahead with that,” Schaefer said.

More programming for senior citizens and teenagers is something she hopes to have coming in the next couple years.

“I just really love my job. I will work really hard, and if other people have ideas or partnerships they would like to do with the Parks Department, I think I’m very open to that. That’s how the food truck vendor situation came about. People were like, ‘Let’s have food at these events.’ So I’m open to talking to people about things like that,” she said.

Stephanie, a 1990 Wawasee High School graduate, has been married to Eric Schaefer for 31 years. They have four children: Austin, 29; twins Dylan and Darren, 25; and McKenna, 20.

The Warsaw Parks and Recreation Department has Instagram and Facebook accounts and a website at https://www.warsaw.in.gov/192/Parks-Recreation