Pickleball tournament at Claybell Park

Richland’s newly hired director of parks and public facilities, Laura Hester, knows the job from the ground up. She was once cemetery sexton in Kaysville, Utah, running a cemetery with graves of some of the early Utah settlers, while also serving as parks and recreation leader.

“I’ve done every job there is to do in a parks department,” Hester told the Observer in a recent telephone interview.

Hester began working in landscaping, building maintenance and recreational therapy in Bountiful, Utah, while she completed her degree at the University of Utah.

Since 2018, Hester has been the director of parks, recreation, and community services in Sahuarita, Arizona, a town of around 34,000 about 15 miles south of Tucson. According to Hester, most of the residents of Sahuarita either commute to Tucson for jobs or work with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Hester said that she and Joe Schiessl, who was recently promoted from director of parks and public facilities to deputy city manager, talked about potential new programs that the parks department could offer.

Hester mentioned the Sahuarita parks department used a van to transport games and family activities around the city for a “Park and Play” program. Sahuarita also offered a variety of after school programs.

When the Observer mentioned that at the Nov. 1 city council meeting, a family advocated for inclusive playground equipment and design that disabled children could also use, Hester said she was particularly interested because her degree is in parks and recreation and recreational therapy.

When the groups around the city like Friends of Badger Mountain, the Audubon Society and the Washington Native Plant Society came up, Hester said, “I’m excited to work with the different groups in the city. I want to help the community”

Before she can think about any new programs, Hester said, “I have to get my feet wet.” Her first day on the job in Richland is January 3, 2023.

Her husband and three of their four children will move to Richland soon, she said.  They sold their home in Arizona and have rented one in Richland.

In a way, Hester will be coming home. While she grew up in Portland, her family moved to Hermiston, Oregon, before she left for college, and they live there now as does her sister.

“I am excited about the wonderful opportunity I have to lead the Richland parks department,” Hester said.