Edmonds Kind of Play: Saying goodbye to long-time Parks and Rec assistant Debbie Johnson

Debbie Johnson is a familiar face at the Frances Anderson Center. (Photos by Jennifer Marx)

“My 3-and-a-half-year-old son needs something to do.” That’s how my first phone call to Edmonds Parks and Recreation began. I tried to mask my desperation for the right option as the arrival of my second son caused my first son some, we’ll say, “discomfort,” that in turn we all felt. The upbeat voice on the other end of the line explained that since he was 3 1/2, Camp Goodtime would be an option for him. The voice was that of Debbie Johnson, Sr. Office Assistant for Edmonds Parks and Recreation. She helped me enroll him and told me what he needed to bring to his first day.

The kind and thoughtful interaction I experienced is how I eventually saw Debbie treat everyone who came through the main entrance of the Frances Anderson Center. After making friends that our family still has today at Camp Goodtime, we moved on to Meadowdale Preschool and Discovery Program camps, to their now defunct Day Camp, and then Lego camps, and dance and art classes. Over the last nine or so years, Debbie has been a resource, a touchstone in managing my kids’ needs for preschool, camps and classes, and a friend.

Earlier this month, I wasn’t surprised to see I had an email from Debbie. She would often contact me regarding classes for the kids — “Ben will love this — and, after I started doing this column, about new and great options Edmonds Parks and Recreation was offering. “After all these years,” Debbie wrote, explaining she’d be retiring at the beginning of March, “Thank you for the chats! I will miss you and the boys!” Needless to say, I was shocked and of course, sad. To me, Debbie IS Edmonds Parks and Recreation, setting the tone of each visit to the Frances Anderson Center (FAC) with her happy voice greeting people, many by name.

As the flier announces her retirement, Debbie Johnson talks with supervisor Todd Cort.

She wasn’t kidding when she said, “all these years.” Debbie has been with Edmonds Parks and Recreation for 32 years. She has served in her current position for 22 years — a job she only planned to have for the four years that her oldest son was attending college. Debbie, whose replacement has yet to be named, started as a contract employee monitoring the Library Plaza Room all those years ago, using what she learned in her years a florist to help patrons plan their events. While those heading through FAC mainly saw Debbie at the front desk, she did much, much more than answer phones, book classes and lovingly remind me that my class paperwork wasn’t in on time. Besides managing facilities and helping those renting the Plaza Room and Meadowdale Clubhouse figure out what they needed for their weddings or memorials, Debbie would on her own volition personally reach out to participants — adults and families with children alike — about classes that would be a good fit. She treated her job as if it were her “own business” and she liked both helping people and watching children be successful.

Becoming emotional, Debbie told me that she was going to have “customer withdrawal,” missing the relationships she’s built. She was particularly touched as she watched an Olympic Ballet student see the banner that was hung wishing her a “Happy Retirement,” and then return to her desk to share a “congratulations.” Dabbing tears, Debbie explained this sentiment “meant a lot from a young person” whose poise she described in a way that makes it clear Debbie is both a grandmother and a former preschool teacher. Debbie is a grandmother to four kids, and you’ve likely heard about them if you’ve stopped to talk to her. “I love being a grandmother” she says, telling me about her 23-year-old grandaughter, two 6-year-old-grandsons, and a 2-and-a-half year old granddaughter.

A banner hanging in the Frances Anderson Center encourages visitors to wish Debbie Johnson well.

Debbie, who has lived in Edmonds for 40 years and who raised her own children here, had a hard time deciding whether the time was right to retire. She had sleepless nights and crafted a list of pros and cons to help her — adding that her fondness for her boss, Recreation Supervisor Todd Cort, made it even harder to decide. But after the loss of her father last fall and more recently her mother-in-law, Debbie decided it was time to hang up her headset.

The “Happy Retirement” banner hanging in the Frances Anderson Center suggests that you “Please stop by the front desk and thank Debbie for her 32 years with Edmonds.” You can do this during business hours or by attending the Retirement Open House the city is holding for her on Friday, March 2, which will be her final day. “We’ll say a few words at 2:30, but folks can drop by until 4 p.m. that day” says Cynthia Cruz, an executive assistant for Edmonds Parks and Recreation. She also encourages you to swing by anytime if you can’t make it to the open house.

Ever the champion of Edmonds Parks and Recreation programs, Debbie started off our chat Friday showing me the brand-new brochure for summer camps offered by Edmonds Parks and Recreation. I would be remiss not to share the two camps she mentioned to me. Debbie really likes the UK Elite soccer camps and as I found out last year, she would “audit” classes in part to better understand how to help those interested in each class. I can second this recommendation — we had a good experience with how the camp handled my youngest after we found out he was more of a reluctant soccer player than previously thought. The city is offering three one-week sessions of UK Elite camp for players ages 6 to 14.

We also talked about the Discovery Program summer offerings. There are four different camp options this summer, and Debbie told me that there are now updated curriculum for the camps. These camps are such a great mix of fun, learning and getting dirty! It is a testament to the Discovery Program camps and their Ranger Naturalists that if my kids see them on the beach, they are excited to run over and say “Hi!” and ask (a million) questions. These camps are broken up by age but range from those ages 6 to 12.

To see the many other camp options offered by Edmonds Parks and Recreation, you can visit EdmondsCamp.org and you can register at RecZone.org. I am sad to say this for the last time, but for the next week you can contact Debbie at 425-771-0230.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx, an Edmonds mom of two young boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time. You can find her on Twitter trying to make sense of begging kids to ”just eat the mac n cheese”


  1. The Edmonds Parks Department is losing a real Gem. Debbie put her heart and soul into her job. She will be greatly missed, her shoes are going to be very difficult to fill.
    Enjoy your retirement Debbie you deserve it!

  2. Have a lovely retirement, Debbie. You have a legacy of many friends in Edmonds.

    Susan Morrow
    Former Beach Ranger Naturalist

  3. Hey Debbie- have a wonderful retirement. We’ll still be seeing you around this lovely town of ours, I’m sure.

  4. What a great career you have had and Edmonds has been lucky to have you. New adventures in your retirement will be great as well. Congrats Debbie !

  5. Congratulations on your retirement Debbie. We are happy for you. Enjoy those grandchildren! Dan and Charlotte

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