Sharon Plunkett has been out of the game for four years now, focusing on volunteering and traveling whenever she wants.
So imagine her surprise when a trip to the Georgia Recreation and Park Association convention, where Plunkett expected to applaud a friend’s hard work, turned into a designation in the organization’s Hall of Fame.
“Totally surprised and speechless,” Plunkett said of the surprise honor for the former director of Gwinnett’s parks and recreation programs. “Receiving this award is truly very humbling and an honor I never even thought about receiving.”
Plunkett is credited with building Gwinnett’s park system, serving as the director for two decades beginning in 1988, a year after residents voted for a county wide recreation service.
“Anyone who enjoys using Gwinnett’s park system sees the tangible result of Sharon Plunkett’s efforts in leading the Parks and Recreation team for so long,” Commission Chairman Charlotte Nash said. “In the 1980s she had a key role in expanding parks countywide as voted by Gwinnett residents. Then in the late 1990’s, Gwinnett voters first approved the use of SPLOST funds for park projects, and Sharon oversaw the development of the incredible, award-winning Gwinnett Parks system we have today.
“Every time I visit a county park or drive by one, I think of Sharon and the great parks staff,” Nash added.
During Plunkett’s tenure, the county added dozens of baseball and soccer fields, basketball and tennis courts, hundreds of miles of trails and more and more offerings, from dog parks to swimming pools. And a year before her 2009 retirement, the system was awarded the top prize from the National Recreation and Park Association.
“My philosophy for directing the operations of GCPR was to be good stewards of the taxpayers dollars and always be efficient and effective in providing quality and safe parks, facilities and programs for youth and adults, alike,” Plunkett said. “That meant continually reviewing operations and modifying business plans as GCPR rapidly grew with the county. I don’t recall one year in my 21 years as (director) that our organizational chart was the same. And building and sustaining a team of parks and recreation professionals who were dedicated to their work in providing quality customer service to ‘get the job done’ was a key factor to the success and accomplishments made by GCPR.”
Plunkett attributed her success to volunteers, staff and others who supported the programs and said the job was “truly a passion.”
She also spent hours helping other parks and recreation programs through the state organization, where she served on the board of trustees for nine years, organized initiatives and even judged 4-H competitions.
“Many of GRPA’s Hall of Fame recipients, during my 35-year career in Parks and Recreation were my mentors and I learned and grew professionally and personally so much from them that I never thought about being a Hall of Fame recipient,” Plunkett said. “So being recognized by my peers and included in the Hall of Fame is truly an honor.”
Now enjoying volunteering with animal rescue organizations and working with seniors, Plunkett said retirement has been an adjustment but she now knows the real definition of recreation.
“(I) am practicing what I preached for so many years, and that’s to get out and enjoy life,” she said.