By Morgan Bryce
Opelika Sportsplex Director Reid Pope is retiring Oct. 31, after nearly 43 years of working with Opelika’s Parks and Recreation Department.
Pope said his decision to retire came after a conversation he had with his wife Gail earlier this year.
“My wife, who’s a retired school teacher, and I talked, and she has gone through a lot of time waiting on me to come home with late night hours … and with over 40 years of working for the city, it was time in my mind to retire and be able to spend more time with her and enjoy each other’s company,” Pope said.
A lifelong resident of Opelika, Pope graduated from Opelika High School in 1972, and in the following year, began his college career at Auburn University. A Wildlife Sciences major, he said he did not find his life’s true passion until he began working part time in the summer 1973 for Opelika’s Parks and Recreation Department.
“I started off in field and park maintenance … keeping them smooth, putting the lines out, cleaning bathrooms. I also got to drive the Rocky Brook Rocket some, clean monkey cages and feed the spider monkeys that were there at the park during that time,” Pope said.
He would later change his major to Recreation Administration, and during the next few years, took time off from school during quarters to work and learn more about how the department worked, from former Parks and Recreation directors William Calhoun and Bill Harrelson
Pope graduated in 1984 from Auburn, and took over as program manager for Parks and Recreation, overseeing popular programs like Friday Night Drop-In and Golden Age Club, working with the Opelika swim team, as well as coordinating annual events like the fall festival.
In 2009, he was relocated from Denson Drive to the Sportsplex, where he was co-director with Tim Gore. A couple of years later, Gore left and Pope was promoted to director, with John Huling being hired as his assistant director.
In his five years as director, Pope said seeing the growth of the Sportsplex and programs it offers was memorable for him.
“Watching all the programs grow that we had … soccer was just a small little thing we had before we moved out here … and now there’s 50-60 teams,” Pope said. “We now have over 6,000 members also. It was a blessing to have this group of people to work with and see them grow over the years too. This whole experience has been a blessing to me.”
Currently, there is no successor to the director position, but Pope said he hopes that the city looks for someone who knows the community well.
“The process of finding someone to replace me is going to be a process … and I hope that the person they get is someone who knows Opelika well and has a sense of what is going on,” Pope said.
Looking ahead to retirement, he said that he and Gail have plans to travel and enjoy their abundance of free time. However, after more than four decades of working for the city he loves, he said that leaving this job will be difficult.
“I was talking with Sam Bailey (director of Opelika’s Parks and Recreation department), and I told him that there’s not many people who work at the same job for as long as we have. When you do work that long, it’s not a job anymore, it’s your life,” Pope said. “I’m going to definitely miss seeing our staff and members on a day-to-day basis. They made this job easier and very enjoyable for me.”