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Getting to Know ... Kathy Marelle

Staff Photo: Christine Troyke Kathy Marelle, married to one of the iconic coaches in Gwinnett County basketball history, is Director of Duluth Parks and Recreation.

Staff Photo: Christine Troyke Kathy Marelle, married to one of the iconic coaches in Gwinnett County basketball history, is Director of Duluth Parks and Recreation.

Kathy Marelle, married to one of the iconic coaches in Gwinnett County basketball history, has worked for the Duluth parks and recreation departments since 1994 and is now its director.

In this installment of "Getting to Know ...," Marelle talks to staff writer Christine Troyke about a variety of topics, including her deep-rooted Auburn loyalties, meeting her husband, Joe, at a basketball game he was coaching and overseeing 140 acres of park land.

CT: Where did you grow up?

KM: Throughout the South. Mostly Florida, Georgia, Alabama.

CT: How much did you move?

KM: We seemed to have moved every three or four years. We were known as what you call business brats. It wasn't until my dad started teaching the university system that we seemed to kind of settle down. Most of my growing up was done in Auburn.

My dad actually taught Pat Sullivan and Terry Beasley. My sister babysat for Pat Sullivan. So we're Toomer's Corner type people.

CT: So no wondering about your football loyalties?

KM: No. Except I married into Tennessee. So it's a house divided. It's an orange thing.

CT: Did you play sports as a kid?

KM: I did the normal recreational softball. Tried dance, but I was always adding an extra step into it. I did the gymnastics thing and then cheerleading.

CT: Did you go to Auburn?

KM: I was early enrollment at Auburn and started there. Then I graduated from Georgia College in Milledgeville when my dad took a position there.

CT: When did you move?

KM: We moved in '73.

CT: How much school did you have left?

KM: Well, (laughing) back when I graduated back in '79, I had the most hours of any graduate from Georgia College. I ended up therapeutic and public recreation and then I kind of tag-teamed that with special ed. But I tried every department there was. At one time I was an art marketing major. One time I was a business major. I was in the education department but then gravitated more toward therapeutic and public recreation.

When I started at Auburn, my dad asked me what did I want to major in. I said, "Oh, dad, there's just so much." He said, "Exactly." He said once I declared a major, then I could go back to Auburn.

I have four brothers and sisters -- there's five of us total -- and we're stair-stacked. So he was big on education -- thank goodness.

But I thoroughly enjoyed all four-and-a-half years of college.

I started my master's, but then we moved to Duluth and I never completed that.

CT: When did you move to Duluth?

KM: It was '80-81.CT: Where did you meet your husband?

KM: In Milledgeville. He actually was teaching in Milledgeville and I was working for Macon/Bibb County parks and recreation department. He was coaching my younger brother, Joe. We met because during the course of the game he benched my younger brother and I critiqued his coaching judgement.

The next thing you know, a year later we got married.

And he was my husband's point guard during that time. It's kind of interesting the way history has a way of repeating itself. He coached our younger son, Tony, and Tony was his point guard at Mt. Pisgah Christian school an they won a state championship.CT: So are you in the middle of the five kids?

KM: I'm actually the second oldest.

CT: How big of an age range is there from oldest to youngest?

KM: Well, the three of us are within 15 to 17 months of each other. Then I have two younger brothers and there's eight years difference between the eldest and the youngest.

At church, we took up the whole pew.

CT: How many of them still live in the South?

KM: Everybody. One of my younger brothers is the professional scout for the Boston Red Sox. He actually played baseball and graduated from Georgia Tech. He held the RBI record until (Jason) Varitek broke it. So we're definitely a sports family.

CT: Were there games in the backyard?

KM: All the time. We had the sandlot.

CT: Were you good at those games?

KM: (laughing) Of course. I was the MVP. And if anyone argued, I let them know why I was.

I think I was always that person that just loved to participate and have a good time. I was never an all-star -- except in the backyard.

CT: I'm guessing all your kids played sports growing up?

KM: They certainly did. From soccer to swimming to basketball to baseball to football.

CT: When did you start working for Duluth parks and rec?

KM: I started back in 1994.

CT: How old were your kids by then?

KM: The last one was born in 1988.

CT: Did you work the whole time you were raising your kids?

KM: I did. I actually started out part time with Gwinnett County parks and recreation and built the tumbling/gymnastics program. Then I went to work for Duluth First Baptist Church in their preschool as the activities coordinator. Then Gwinnett County public schools and then city of Duluth.

CT: What was Duluth like when you first moved here from Macon?

KM: Between Ted's fruit stand and Whitey and Eddie's food store on the corner and the local Winn-Dixie, that was all there was in Duluth. Growing up in college towns, you kind of get used to a couple of blocks having things.

But it's been a great community and town to raise a family. Moving every three and four years never allowed you to get identified with a community. So I feel like my children have been blessed with not only embracing a community, but a community embracing them. That's what Duluth has been for us.

CT: Taking the job with Duluth, did you foresee staying here as long as you have?

KM: Well, I was approached with, back in '94, that they had started and wanted to grow and develop the parks and recreation department. One of my very first jobs was doing that in Fort Valley. So I was very familiar with, in a small town, starting a parks and recreation department. I never anticipated it would mushroom the way it has. But Duluth has a very active lifestyle, engagement in the community and has supported the parks and recreation department to where it is today.CT: Summer is a hectic time for you, but sports go all year-round now, don't they?KM: Correct. Whether it's travel or recreational leagues, there are basically 11-month sports. December is the breather month for everybody.

CT: If you have free time, what do you like to do with it?

KM: I love spending it with my grandbabies and my dogs. And in the fall, definitely SEC football.

CT: Do your kids live nearby?

KM: My eldest is a CEO of a company in Arkansas. My youngest is in law school at Mercer and my daughter works here for Southeast Mortgage.

CT: You've got a good perspective on this from your family and your job, but how important is it for kids to get into sports -- whether they end up playing them through high school or longer?

KM: Essential. Whether it is an individual sport and self-improvement in a sport like tennis or swimming. Or whether it's a group sport -- soccer, baseball, basketball, football, lacrosse -- just the physical outlet and the release of a lot of stress that a lot kids have today, just growing up.

CT: Have you been to A LOT of basketball games in your life?

KM: Oh my gosh, yes. Between the end of March Madness and the start of really good baseball, we kind of have this lull that we don't know what to do with. Maybe home-improvement project.

CT: Do you have a favorite place for family vacations? It's probably tough since summer is busy for you and that's ...

KM: Really the only time Joe has off. We're just now starting to reinvent our vacation. But growing up, we'd always take the kids to Jacksonville Beach in Florida.

CT: What exactly does your job entail these days?

KM: I am the department director and I oversee about 140 acres of active and passive park land as well as year-round recreational programs for seniors, adults and youth.

CT: Is there a part of the job that really appeals to you?

KM: I'm am very excited about park development. Keeping up with the latest trends, facilities, activities. It has changed so much from growing up and when I first started in the industry.

CT: Your husband's fight against cancer has been fairly well publicized and many times he has talked about how much the family made the difference. Do you know someone who is a bigger fighter than Joe?

KM: No. I think he's probably one of the Avengers, the superheroes. And not just the life lessons that he taught our children, but the courage that it takes to face each day with insurmountable things that can occur. But also the fact that he is so dedicated to helping others go through and face their life challenges.

I'm not so sure, I always was a competitor, but when you get right down to competing with life and what he had to endure, I'm just glad we had the love and support to hold it all together. I don't know if I could develop a gameplan like he did. I would definitely want him to be my coach.

He is truly a remarkable, blessed human being. The endless prayers and the wonderful wishes by thousands of people in the duluth community had a part in his success.

CT: Was it Coaches for Cancer ...

KM: ... at the Final Four. He was a guest speaker for the American Cancer Society, which had a seminar during the Final Four convention. He delivered one of the most moving speeches. I was extremely proud of him. We walked into a room full of D-I coaches and dignitaries and his whole purpose there was to thank them for their support. The difference that others can make in someone's life is immeasurable.

CT: It's certainly a hopeful story. Beating cancer once really should be enough for anyone ...

KM: ... much less three or four times. The first time, we went through three different oncologists before we found one that had the mindset. To find that source of treatment that you believe in. His first oncologists told him to get his affairs in order, that he had less than six months.CT: He's back to coaching now?

KM: He has the best of both worlds right now. He and his longtime colleague, Eddie Martin, he is Eddie's assistant coach at GAC.