Jeff Pudists will officially retire with 41.5 years as a career employee. But, in reality, his years of service with us began when he was just 11 years old.
Jeff grew up across the street from Jefferson Park where he and his siblings spent most of their youth. At the ripe age of 11, he began volunteering at the park. He has fond memories of helping Smitty. The long time parks staff member taught Jeff how to help put out the sprinklers in summer and he began picking up litter to help keep his park clean. When he turned fifteen-and-a-half, Jeff got a work permit and started his first official job with the District. He spent the next three-and a-half years as a seasonal staff member at Jefferson, before being hired as a career staff member and assigned to work at Wright Park.
Other than a one-year pilot during which he worked as part of a horticultural landscape crew at Wapato, Jeff has been based at Wright Park for all of his 41.5 years of his professional career. To be clear, that doesn’t mean he spent all of his time at Wright Park. The crew that he leads has responsibility for 20 other parks in Central Tacoma as well as our Northeast Tacoma pAarks.
To say that Wright Park has been a focal point of his career – as well as his personal life – would be no exaggeration.
Jeff met his wife Sheila at the park when she was a playgrounAd leader. When they got married in 1983, they took their vows in the Seymour Conservatory and held their reception in the senior center which once stood near the shops buildings. Twenty-six years later, Jeff and Sheila’s daughter Amy and her husband continued the Pudists family tradition of marrying in the conservatory.
When asked what makes Wright Park special, Jeff quickly responds that it is Tacoma’s Central Park.
“Everyone needs a place to go and you see people from every walk of life enjoying Wright Park,” he said with a smile and sense of pride in his voice.
Generations of Tacoman’s have created special memories each summer during Ethnic Fest at Wright Park. While most of the crowd has no idea how instrumental Jeff’s contributions were to that annual event, co-organizers Lori (Crace) Raisch and our Mayor Victoria Woodards would tell you he was vital to every step of the event from the lead-up, throughout the weekend-long festivities, all the way through the late night clean up after.
“He was absolutely tireless,” Lori shared as she reminisced about the event. “We literally could not have done it without him.” She went on to tell us that Jeff didn’t assign others to do all the work, “he was in there doing all the hard stuff, every step of the way. From calculating and marking out parking and vendor spaces, to keeping the park sparkling.” Lori said she loved seeing the smile on his face as tens of thousands of people gathered for “Tacoma’s biggest annual block party” and that he was absolutely essential to hosting the community celebration of cultures and heritage.
Jeff loves serving the community and believes parks are a place for everyone to enjoy. At times, it can be a challenge balancing everyone’s needs and uses of parks, but he always strove to know and truly serve his regular park visitors in every park under his care.
One day while caring for People’s Park in early 2019 he was talking with some community members who had taken up residence in the park. He was in the process of asking the group to tidy up around their tents when he heard a voice say, “So, you’re still here?” He turned and looked toward a young unfamiliar couple who were smiling up at him. As they shared that they were on their way to the Tacoma Housing Authority to pick up keys for their apartment, Jeff suddenly recognized that the now clean and freshly dressed couple were the same people he had spoken with regularly months prior to that moment. It hadn’t registered right away that they were a couple who had previously been living in People’s Park for many months prior to that moment. They thanked Jeff for always working to keep the park safe and usable for everyone, then turned to the group that he was talking and asked them to listen to Jeff and join him in caring for the park. He said it was an unforgettable to moment to celebrate with them as the couple headed to THA to begin their transition out of homelessness.
There are countless community members who will tell you about how Jeff consistently and humbly supported them behind-the-scenes whether at Wright Park, Peoples, Neighbors or more than a dozen other locations he has helped care for over the past 4 decades.
Former Parks’ Superintendent Vito Iacobazzi sent this note regarding Jeff’s years of service. ”Jeff, you started as a worker, a student learning how to take care of park landscapes, gardens, trees, specialize recreation facilities – and everything else, that is impossible to list here. Over the past 40 years, you transitioned to a park leader, a teacher, a counselor, a mentor, a consultant, a knowledgeable experienced team member for Metro Parks. Thank you for all those contributions and everything you have done! You should be very proud of these accomplishments.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Metro Parks staff member Jeff Pudists spent 4 decades caring for Wright Park. He and his wife met and married in the park, as did their daughter Amy.
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