Del Valle retires from county parks post

After 24 years in county government, Rafael Del Valle retired on Friday from the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department.

Del Valle's history with parks includes New York and Citrus County.

When he came here, his first job was as a casual laborer running the women’s volleyball league with the Citrus County Parks and Recreation Department.

In 2002, he became the Recreation Manager, and got to work on several big projects throughout the county. One of the projects he is most proud of, he said, is the Floral City Tree Park in that city. It was, Del Valle said at the time, one of the nicest parks in the county. "“I can tell you right now where every tree in that park was planted,” he recalled on Friday at his retirement gala.

It is not common knowledge, but Del Valle was responsible for obtaining millions of dollars in grants for parks, such as Holden Park, Central Ridge, Homosassa Park and Bluebird Springs.

He became contemplative when peppered by well-wishing staff members at his retirement party. The questions went like this:

  • What does your future hold? “I’m going to study leisure as much as I can. I also have six grandkids to keep me busy.”
  • What will you miss most about your job? The people. “Citrus County has a very special family here in County government. Citrus County has grown within itself. The road system is improving. More people and businesses are moving here. You have a government that’s so transparent, people can’t believe it. In New York where I’m from, if you ask a question, you get one answer and that’s it. There is no follow-up and nothing more. The Commissioners here work as one unit. This is probably the only board that I feel I work with them and not for them.”
  • What was your biggest disappointment is about his job? “I think people don’t take advantage of what’s here. Maybe they don’t know how much we really have. If people only realized what this place has to offer, they would be amazed.”

A special moment remembered

Del Valle said he could recall several special moments in his career in county government here, but one of the most memorable was an email he received from a man trying to locate where his father was buried.

“He said it was between New Port Richey and Homosassa. At first I wondered if this was in my job description, and at that point I didn’t care. It became my job.” Del Valle located the grave site in just 10 minutes, and was able to tell the man where his father was buried.

For Del Valle, the future will look much different. He said he will be spending time with his family and on the golf course, “I found it in good shape and I think I’m leaving it in even better shape.”

New Parks & Recreation leadership in place

For Citrus County, the future of the Parks and Recreation Department is now in the hands of Mike Howell. During the past three months, Howell has been working with Del Valle learning the ropes. He has had time with Del Valle while he learned the transitional ropes.

“Learning from Rafael has been great. I want to keep what he has done, and add to it.”

By way of background Howell, a Southern California native, was born and raised in Corona, Ca. He played football for the University of Southern California, was a member of two national championship teams and got interested in the field of Parks and Recreation after working several of the summer programs at the college.

Howell moved east to Snow Hill, Md., where he served first as Coordinator of Recreation for Worcester County; and then in 1986 through 1996 as director. He moved to Providence, R.I., as Director for School Grounds and Athletic Fields for 55 schools from 1996 to 2001. He later returned to Maryland, where he was employed by a private company in Westminster, Md., that built and reconditioned athletic fields. The scope of his work included working on fields for professional teams, such as the Fed Ex Field for the Washington Redskins, along with those of the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs.

He is married to Sharon, and they have three children. Howell has family here in Florida, including his parents. He said he really wanted to get back into Parks and Recreation, and thinks his background can offer a lot to the position. “Citrus County reminds me a lot of the County I came from in Maryland.”

Howell said he is ready to tackle his new role as Parks and Recreation manager, and said he’s looking forward to getting to know all about Citrus County and what it has to offer.