LAURINBURG — When Shannon Newton steps down at the end of this week after 16 years directing Scotland County Parks and Recreation, she won’t exactly be pushing up daisies.
Newton, who has the construction of the James L. Morgan Recreation Complex and Wagram Active Living Center to her credit as parks and recreation director, will join N.C. Cooperative Extension in April as area horticulture agent for Hoke and Scotland counties.
“Under Shannon’s leadership and stewardship — two very different, distinct things — the growth and the expansion of parks and recreation services in Scotland County has been excellent, and we have our Morgan recreation complex as the best example of that and our ten-year master plan,” said Carol McCall, chair of the Scotland County Board of Commissioners.
“We will miss her, but I don’t think she’s going far. I think her presence and her activity and her contribution to Scotland County will be with us for a very long time.”
The vocational shift will be a return to the familiar for Newton, who came to the county’s recreation department after 15 years as the city of Laurinburg’s beautification director.
“I like horticulture,” she said. “I’m not young, but I’m too young to retire, and it was just a good time to go.”
Local officials and parks and recreation users streamed in and out of Scotland Place on Wednesday afternoon to wish Newton well in her new endeavors.
“I think she is a great person: very, very interested in the county and very concerned about the people around her,” said Annie McIntyre, a frequent visitor to the Wagram Active Living Center. “If she can help you, she will. She’s just a good-hearted person and I’m going to miss her. If there’s anything you need or if there’s something going on, she will make it her business to get it straightened out.”
Opened in 2007 and constructed using more than $1 million in grants and funds raised locally, the Morgan complex on Turnpike Road includes several lit baseball and soccer fields as well as the county splash pad. For the past few summers, the complex has also hosted the Laurinburg After Five concert series.
The complex is now the home of all parks and recreation baseball and softball games — in addition to hosting tournaments between travel teams — leading to a consolidation of the county’s parks that remains in progress.
“The demographics of the county are changing,” Newton said. “With the number of children declining, we’re having to focus on what exactly needs to e done and the first step is looking at all of our parks.
“We used to play baseball at seven locations and now we’re playing at one. That saves the county money as far as maintenance, and it’s centralized so that kids only have to play in once place. The next step is programs: what programs are going to be added?”
One new program added recently is Halloween in the Park, an annual family-friendly spookfest at Scotland Yard orchestrated with the help of St. Andrews University athletes.
“The most fun we’ve had has been Halloween in the Park,” Newton said. “It’s been a huge success the past three years, and I’m sure that will continue.”
During Newton’s tenure, the county started charging fees for youth athletics and facility rentals to ensure participants’ commitment to their chosen activities.
“She’s exemplary of the type of employee that we look for in our community: somebody that cares about our community and works hard every day to make it a better place to live,” said county commissioner Guy McCook. “I’ve been very fortunate to be able to work with her, both as a commissioner and as a citizen.”
Parks and recreation athletics supervisor Al Blades will serve as interim director. The county expects to hire a replacement for Newton by June 1.
Kisha Williams, who has run the Wagram Active Living Center for five years, credited Newton with her own professional growth — and said that the longtime director’s absence will take a lot of getting used to.
“It’s strange to see the corsage on her, it’s strange to see the things out of her office,” said Williams. “It’s really weird. She’s leaving behind a permanent legacy here and parks and rec. She should be very proud of what she’s accomplished here and what she has helped others accomplish.”
Mary Katherine Murphy can be reached at 910-506-3169.