Long-time Parks & Rec Director retires after 20 years

By HASKEL BURNS,

After spending 22 years in the Army and 20 years with the City of Petal, Tom Hardges Jr. has a pretty good feeling of the differences he’s made within his local community and the military.

And that’s why the long-time director of the City of Petal Parks and Recreation Department is perfectly fine with his decision to retire and restructure his priorities, with Aug. 28 as his last official day.

“The way I’ll put it, is that sometimes you know when it’s time to move on,” said Hardges, who is originally from Port Gibson. “Petal has been good to me, and I’ve done about as much as I feel I can do at this point in time.

“It’s time to start spending more with my family and grandkids. It’s time to come home and enjoy the family.”

For the first seven years of his military stint, Hardges served in air defense artillery, where he was trained to shoot down airplanes. He then became an instructor at the Region III NCO Academy at Camp Shelby.

Hardges moved to Petal in 1996, while still working full-time with the Army. In late 1998, he accepted a part-time gig as a grounds laborer with the Parks and Recreation Department, where he performed maintenance around the city’s various parks and playgrounds.

“Cutting, weed eating, doing ball fields, cleaning restrooms, working the concession stands – all of that good stuff,” Hardges said. 

A few years later, under the administration of former Mayor Tony Phillips, the department director position became open when the director at the time pursued another career. Hardges applied for and was hired at the position, where he is in charge of ensuring the city’s parks and other facilities are always ready and prepared for its residents.

“I have enjoyed my time greatly with the City of Petal,” Hardges said. “The citizens, all of the businesses and the community as a whole have just been great to me. 

“I’ve worked for four different administrations, and of course they were all different in their own way, but I can honestly say that I’ve had a great time working here.”

Over the years, Hardges has particularly enjoyed helping the community and knowing that they’re enjoying the department’s efforts to provide them with the best possible recreational facilities.

“The favorite part of my time here is when I hear that the community is excited and glad to have some of the different things that happened during my tenure,” he said. “Just hearing the community come in a say they’re glad they have playgrounds, they’re glad they have updated ball fields, they’re glad they have new parks.

“You’re not just doing an 8 to 5 job – you’re doing something to make your community proud.”

Pending a vote by the Petal Board of Aldermen, Hardges will be succeeded by Brian Hall, who currently serves as assistant director at the Parks and Recreation Department.

“Tom is a great guy, and he’s definitely earned his retirement,” Hall said. “I’m excited to get started.

“We’ve got a lot of projects we’ve submitted for next budget year, so we’re just trying to see what the aldermen go with and decide we can do.”

In honor of Hardges’ service to the city, officials held a retirement ceremony Wednesday at Petal High School.

“We’re going to really miss Tom Hardges,” Mayor Hal Marx said. “He’s been with the city a long time and done great things for our recreation department.

“He’s overseen a lot of growth and improvements to the department since he’s been here, and I know that he’s poured a lot of his heart and soul into doing the best he can for our youth and all of our people here. We hate to lose Tom, but congratulations on his retirement – it’s well-earned, and I’m sure he’ll enjoy it.”

Hardges’ advice for the remaining Parks and Recreation employees is simple: have a heart for the job.

“You’ve got to love what you do, because you’re not always doing the same thing every day,” he said. “You’ve got to love that type of work.

“You have to have great people working for you, and I feel that I’ve had the best staff in the state of Mississippi. And you have to have great people skills – you’ve got to be able to deal with people from all walks of life.”