The room was alive with heartfelt tributes, laughter, and a shared sense of gratitude as Jay Lotthammer, the longtime Eden Prairie parks and recreation director, took his final bow last week, marking the end of his 16-year tenure on the job.
Last week, at Fat Pants Brewing, friends, family, and well-wishers gathered to say goodbye over beer to Lotthammer, 56, marking the end of his 35-year career in the parks and recreation field.
Before joining Eden Prairie, he spent 19 years in Brooklyn Park, ascending from a seasonal part-time employee to the director of parks and recreation for that community. Lotthammer, Eden Prairie’s third parks and recreation director, had announced his retirement in August, with his final day set for October 18.
His replacement, Amy Markle, began her new role earlier in the week, providing a few days for the two to work together. She had been the recreation services director for the City of Richfield.
Reflecting on his journey, Lotthammer shared, “If I had written the script for my life and career, it couldn’t have turned out this good. I feel incredibly lucky and blessed.”
Lotthammer’s legacy celebrated
City Manager Rick Getschow, serving as the night’s de facto master of ceremonies, joked about Lotthammer’s distinctive approach to tucking in his sweater and emphasized how much help he was when Getschow first came to work for the city.
Getschow shared an interesting piece of trivia: Before his tenure, Jay Lotthammer, not Scott Neal, served as the city manager here. Neal departed in 2010 to become the city manager of Edina, and Lotthammer took on the role of interim city manager until Getschow assumed the position.
“I cannot thank you enough, Jay, for how you welcomed me to this community, showed me around, helped me out, oriented me, and then we worked together 12-13 years. You’re one of the best directors this city has ever had, and one of the best people,” Getschow said.
Getschow, Neal, and Mayor Ron Case lauded Lotthammer for his significant contributions to the community over the years.
During his 16-year tenure in Eden Prairie, Lotthammer focused on modernizing the city’s largest parks and catering to a growing and increasingly diverse population. His predecessors, first Marty Jessen and then Bob Lambert, had laid the foundation during the development boom of the 1970s, ‘80s, and ‘90s, establishing a legacy that included land acquisition and the planning and implementation of a nationally recognized system of parks and open spaces.
“I can’t think of a park, location, or facility that Jay hasn’t touched or worked on, or a program that he wasn’t a part of or a person he did not work with in a positive way to run his department, to lead and mentor,” Getschow said. “He was such a positive influence on the city, and we will definitely miss you. We appreciate all the positivity, passion, great attitude, and great work you brought to this city.”
Case added that Lotthammer has had his “fingerprints on every trail, every piece of open space, maybe every tree that has been planted” in development projects.
“When you start thinking about the lives that get touched because of the parks and the trails, it’s phenomenal,” Case said. “We all have our legacies, but Jay, you have a phenomenal legacy, and you just have to go to sleep at night and feel wonderfully proud about that.”
His time in Brooklyn Park
Linda St. John, who hired Lotthammer and served as his predecessor in Brooklyn Park, remembered when, in 1988, a “squeaky-clean young man walked through the door” to apply for a seasonal program job.
“It’s amazing because, over time, that squeaky clean young man — still squeaky clean — much to his credit and hard work, became a regular full-time recreation staff person and a valuable assistant to me over the years in Brooklyn Park,” St. John said of Lotthammer.
She commended his ability to build bridges and elevate the parks and recreation profession beyond recreational activities.
“Oftentimes, recreation and parks are referred to as the ‘fun and games’ profession,” St. John said. “But we are so much more than that. I think Jay certainly took that to heart. The director of recreation and parks is a caretaker of the community’s park resources, whether it’s land, staff, buildings, programs, or even the department’s philosophy of operation. You instill that in your staff. From Day 1, Jay has always been a great caretaker of community resources. Why? Because he gets it. He understands the big picture goes beyond fun and games.”
‘I couldn’t have asked for anything more’
When it was his time to speak, Lotthammer began to recount a story close to his heart, one that exemplified the impact of his work.
It was the story of Andy, a young boy he met at the age of 6 during T-ball coaching. Over the years, Lotthammer watched Andy grow, work summers at the golf course, excel in high school athletics, and eventually become a teacher in the Minnetonka School District.
Andy’s journey symbolized the many lives touched and transformed by the parks and recreation programs Lotthammer championed.
“I get to see and talk to Andy, and I recognize the amount of impact someone like Andy is having on this world,” he said. “I realize how many individuals, like Andy, all of us end up touching and how we contribute to making a better life for them and many other people.”
His career, he emphasized, was more than a job; it was a chance to be part of someone’s first job, their first full-time position, and to witness their growth within the organization. It was a career, he stressed, where “people have to come to us and say, ‘I got this dream, can you make it happen?’ And we’ve been able to make it happen, and that’s so rewarding.”
Looking back on his tenure, he acknowledged the pride he felt in the sense of community he helped build.
“I’ve had the privilege of attending countless programs and community events, witnessing the outstanding work of my colleagues, and seeing our community members truly enjoy and engage with their surroundings,” he remarked. “I couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
He met with his staff earlier this week for the last time.
“I couldn’t have asked for better people to finish my career with,” he said. “As you saw tonight, I couldn’t have asked for better people to start my career with. If you’re here tonight, it’s because you mean something to me, and I want you to know that I’m here for you for the rest of my life.”
Editor’s note: Lotthammer was featured on the most recent “Real Talk with Rick” podcast, hosted by Eden Prairie City Manager Rick Getschow. In an episode titled “The Real Ron Swanson,” he reflected on his 35 years of public service and discussed what’s next for him.
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