Life's work for Mullally dealt with picnics in city parks
The late Homer Abbott, director of parks and recreation for Grand Forks, appeared before his board of directors 36 years ago with a unique idea. Because he was nearing the end of his career and needing help, Abbott suggested that the board name S...
The late Homer Abbott, director of parks and recreation for Grand Forks, appeared before his board of directors 36 years ago with a unique idea.
Because he was nearing the end of his career and needing help, Abbott suggested that the board name Stephen Mullally as superintendent of parks and Bill Palmiscno, who was about five years younger, as superintendent of recreation. The board went for it, and the two have worked side by side through the years. Mullally took time out to reminisce about his career this past week as he prepares to retire at the end of the year. While he is retirement age, Palmiscno is still about five years younger.
The two have worked with John Staley, director of the city's Park District.
As park superintendent, Mullally has seen the system grow from 350 acres to the present 850 acres and the budget increase from $800,000 in 1974 to its present $10.5 million. When he started, there were 31 full-time employees taking care of the parks. Now, there are 39, but they have larger mowers and more equipment. For instance, they use 15-foot rotary mowers that allow them to get through the park system in seven days.
"The biggest thing that happened," he said last week, "was the 8 percent dedication ordinance requiring developers to set aside a percentage of each project for parks." And then there was the donation from the late Pete Ulland, a letter carrier, who gave $800,000 in his will. That enabled the Park District to buy more park land, including Ulland Park.
The Park District has been able to develop neighborhood parks such as Optimist and Bringewatt. "The most frustration," Mullally said, "was having recurring floods damage our four main parks -- Central, Riverside, Lincoln and University." He looks back on the Flood of 1997 as a good thing -- in a way. Although the park district lost 180 acres, it gained 220 acres along the riverfront with the post flood improvements that brought nature trails and bike paths.
"Now, all of that land is in public trust instead of private hands."
Right now, the outdoor hockey rinks are opening. But Mullally said there has been a shift from outdoor to more indoor hockey over the years. One thing that hasn't changed is the demand for picnic areas. "We have tried to keep the parks attractive and be good neighbors to people who live in each area," Mullally said. "Homer Abbott taught me that."
Mullally is a rather down-to-earth, unassuming person with a good sense of humor. Rick Ziegelmann, one of those who has worked with him, said he is an exceptional listener, always willing to sit down and resolve any issue that may arise. Dick Leker, past director of the Grand Forks Park District, said Mullally was responsible for development and improvement of three golf courses now owned by the Park District.
Then there's his sidekick. Bill Palmiscno said Mullally has always been like a big brother to him. He's been a go-to person for his knowledge and caring consideration of employees. Their comments led to the recent Hall of Fame Award from the North Dakota Recreation & Parks Association Hall of Fame awarded to Mullally.
Brandy Chaffee, a park district colleague, said Mullally has affected many people along his way. She said there are many who remember the days when he was coaching hockey. Through the years, Mullally has taught a class with Bill Palmiscno at UND on recreation facilities. And Mullally said he has enjoyed the chance to keep in touch with young people.
He looks back now on a career that started with the workers using big old radios for communication and moving on to pagers and cell phones, and now texting.
Mullally and his wife, Judy, have four grown children and seven grandchildren. He grew up in Grand Forks and is a UND graduate, Before going to work for the Park District, he spent a couple of years working for the Great Northern Railway in Seattle and later teaching sixth grade at Eielson School on Grand Forks Air Base.
He's ready for retirement, looking ahead to having more time with his family and for volunteer work in the community. He may go traveling around in his trailer to visit other parks.
And he might just be able to go on more picnics in the parks.
Reach Hagerty at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.