By David Markham
After more than 23 years which have included spearheading special events, running JCPRD facilities, and presenting programs across the region and around the country meant to keep girls and women safe, Wellness Manager Jill Leiker will be retiring on July 31.
“Jill has brought so much to JCPRD, it’s hard to know where to begin,” said Superintendent of Recreation Rhonda Pollard. “Her expertise in special events, self-defense, facility management, and the broad spectrum of wellness has made her department and JCPRD a leader in our industry. Jill is leaving JCPRD much, much better than she found it – no doubt! Her legacy is one of hard work, dedication to her staff and the patrons they serve, and a true love of everything JCPRD! She is well respected by her co-workers, her staff, and the numerous community partners she has built relationships with over her years of service here. We’re going to miss her, but we know her new focus on family will bring her so much joy!”
“I have enjoyed spending 23 years of my career here,” Leiker said. “I have been afforded many opportunities for growth, have learned a lot about the industry and myself, and have made life-long friends. I love what we do. I have worked in recreation since I was 14 years old, starting at Athletic Park at the swimming pool concession stand in Newton, Kan., and have been involved as either a participant or employee since.”
Leiker started with JCPRD on Jan. 1, 1999, as a recreation coordinator. In November 2000, she was reclassified as Athletic Training Center / Kansas City Corporate Challenge specialist. In April 2004, she was promoted to her current title of wellness manager.
Prior to coming to JCPRD, Leiker worked for about six years for the Hays (Kan.) Recreation Commission in various positions ranging from sports director to interim superintendent. She also owned the Downtown Athletic Club & Leiker’s Karate in Hays for 15 years. She holds a bachelor’s degree in human resource management from Friends University, Wichita, and a certificate in leadership studies from Fort Hays State University.
Among the many professional honors and appointments Leiker has received are: a 2018 WIN for KC “WOW” Award from the Kansas City Sports Commission; service to the Kansas Recreation and Park Association as a member, past member of the board of directors and executive committee, recreation branch chair, and member of the strategic planning committee; and she has served as a presenter or facilitator for a variety of groups including KRPA, Johnson County Government’s L.E.A.P. (Leadership Empowers All People) Cadre, a retreat for the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners, and JCPRD management staff.
Several of Leiker’s honors stem from her highly-visible role as developer and primary instructor of The Ali Kemp Educational Foundation’s self-defense seminars, which aim to empower women with new skills and lifesaving knowledge. Since 2004, the program has successfully provided training to more than 70,000 girls and women ranging in age from 12 to 90. In 2005, T.A.K.E. was named as KRPA’s “Outstanding Innovative Program,” and in 2006, the National Association of Counties presented the program with a “Safety Achievement” award. In 2011, she was invited to a ceremony at the White House where T.A.K.E. founder Roger Kemp was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal honoring his efforts and the program’s contributions to the safety of American citizens.
While many people don’t like dealing with change at all, for Leiker, “the consistent changes and evolution of our events, projects, programs” have been some of her favorite parts of the job.
Asked what she sees as her biggest accomplishments at JCPRD, Leiker presents a formidable list.
It includes “the opportunity to be a member of, and lead the largest and oldest corporate Olympics in the United States; the creation, and implementation of rental systems for Mildale Farm which was later replicated for rental venues such as, the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, and Meadowbrook Clubhouse; project management of sustaining revenue generating business operations during the major renovations of the (former) Athletic Training Center, Mildale Farm estate house, cottage house and barn, and Mill Creek Activity Center; securing sponsorship revenue for the acquisition of exercise equipment for the first outdoor fitness park in our system (located in Heritage Park); and the partnership with the Ali Kemp Educational Foundation from 2004 to 2021.”
She added that of everything she’s done, she is proudest of “hiring, training, and mentoring some of the greatest people you would ever want to know. Our people have a passion for what they do, and it shows through our parks, programs, events, and facilities.”
As for retirement plans, Leiker said she looks forward to more adventures with her husband, sons, and grandchildren.
“We have a new little granddaughter arriving in October,” she said. “My family and I have always worked when others recreate so we are going to take a few weeks to just stay home! Our first trip stateside will be to the Jersey Shore with friends, then off to Germany and Italy this fall. After that……grandbaby time!!!”