Longtime Recreation Supervisor Swings Into Retirement 

By Cheryl Conway 

“Sometimes if you want to see a change for the better, you have to take things into your own hands.” ~ Clint Eastwood

That is exactly what Mt. Olive resident Jill Daggon did 36 years ago when she was displeased with the Budd Lake Beach and decided to get involved, a move that would steer her into a career that she would have never expected.

“We moved to the Mt Olive area in 1987,” she explains. “At the Budd Lake Beach, I realized that the lifeguards weren’t actually lifeguarding.  In 1989, I complained to the Recreation Director Eric Schulte that the beach wasn’t what it could be. He challenged me to get the necessary certifications and then I could run the beach. I accepted his challenge.” 

She started out part time as a beach staff member and in 1990 was promoted to Budd Lake Beach director, a position she held for eight years. In 1999, she was hired full-time with the Mt. Olive Recreation Department. 

Her many roles over the years included substitute lifeguard, swim instructor, lifeguard, head lifeguard, beach manager, beach director, recreation assistant, acting recreation supervisor and recreation supervisor, a position she has held since 2002.

Daggon admits this was not her original plan. 

She grew up in the Wilmington-Delaware area in the 1970s, where she spent a lot of time outdoors and enjoyed swimming in their pool.

“When I got to high school, I was a complete klutz,” she admits. “I was banned from gym after dislocating my knee a couple of times. I did drama and all those fun things.  I ended up doing costumes for all the various shows and things.”  

She attended Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., for her bachelor’s in 1979 with a concentration in costume design.

Her love for drama continued as an intern at Stamford Theatre in Connecticut. While she did not pursue a career in drama, the internship was where she met her husband.

Of course, decisions lead people on their life path, and for Daggon that was to settle in Mt. Olive and enjoy more than three decades working in the recreation department, a profession she has enjoyed immensely as she readies for retirement on February 7.

“Aquatics and recreation are areas that touches many people’s lives and can help make things better,” says Daggon. “I have always wanted to serve God by helping people.”

Besides working for Mt. Olive Recreation, Daggon worked and volunteered in Aquatics starting in 1989 for the West Morris YMCA; was pool manager for Headquarters Plaza Health Club in 1992; substitute teacher for the Mt. Olive Township School District in 1994; and preschool teacher for First Impressions from 1994 through 1998.

A Fun-Filled Career  

Daggon has seen significant changes within the recreation department, the beach and activities during her tenure and is proud of its growth.

“Budd Lake Beach was a hidden gem,” she describes. “In the 1990’s we grew the programming to include many levels of swim lessons, special events, parties, exercise classes and “Beach Features.”

However, “times change, and the beach has not been a swimming facility for a few years,” she says. “But there are plans to renovate the beach this year.” 

In the office, “we’ve grown from a two-person department and a hand cranked mimeograph machine (to make flyers for each school) to a four-person department with 15+ events a year and over 100 programs. Technology changes have made a huge impact on our department, from databases (instead of 3×5 cards), internet, website design, digital brochures and social media.”

From department changes, to how it gets its finding and how the program expanded, Daggon was there through it all.

When Daggon first came on board, the department was the Recreation, Parks, Buildings and Grounds Division. In 2002, when Shulte retired as director of Recreation, the Parks, Buildings and Grounds moved into the Department of Public Works and recreation moved into administration with Daggon as its head, she explains in her bio.

The Recreation Department used to be funded primarily through the township’s budget, but then in 2004, it changed to being a utility, in which it was self-sustaining and self-funded. Recreation now operates almost as a non-profit, raising revenues through events, sponsorships, donations and programming, she explained.

Recreation’s partnerships also changed over the years. It worked with the ITC Alliance for special events from 1997 through 2012. Its programming boomed in 2012 when it took over the Community School program that was discontinued by the Mt. Olive Board of Education. That was the same year that former Mayor Rob Greenbaum challenged recreation to offer more events and sponsorship opportunities.

“During this phase of our growth we expanded our use of social media, e-newsletters and other digital platforms,” shared Daggon.

From the roller coaster and Ferris wheel during the Mt. Olive Carnival and the slides and wings at Mount Playmore, it’s really been a fabulous ride for Daggon.

As supervisor, Daggon has enjoyed making a difference in other people’s lives from smiling faces, skill growth, advanced technology and fun programs. 

Her greatest accomplishments, she shares, have been “Seeing excited children as they learn new skills and overcome fear (little light bulbs above their heads!); seeing summer staff (high school and college students) and program staff grow through trainings and work experiences and then become leaders in their fields; bringing the community together, providing fun, enriching events and programs; working with the best team to build the vision for the Recreation Department – developing and adapting events and programs; incorporating technology into our processes; establishing and growing the Recreation Utility to be self-supporting and self-sustaining; developing customer services and experiences that are simple and enjoyable.”

Thirty plus years is a long time, and Daggon has made so many friends and has been involved in directing so many wonderful programs for the community.  

“I have enjoyed making new friends and collaborating on projects and programs,” she shares. “Working with our staff and families at Budd Lake Beach; we had many fun activities, including a Regatta that had a cardboard canoe race. Teams of children worked together to turn large cardboard boxes into watercrafts – decorated and wrapped in packing tape and then paddled in the shallow end until they sank.”

The support she has received from township officials has been priceless. 

“I’ve been encouraged and supported by mayors and council to make the Mt. Olive Recreation Dept. one of the leading recreation agencies in the state,” she says. “We have had a great partnership with DPW and the Parks, Buildings and Grounds departments – they support our vision and provide facilities, park improvements, infrastructure and staff to help make our events great. At our last event, AnyWho’s WinterFest, I enjoyed working with our Grinch and Gingerbread mascots, and dancing with Christmas Tree!”

Out of all of the events, the carnival and festival are her favorites. 

“The Mt. Olive Carnival is a great five-day event that really brings the community together,” she says. “We’ve learned a lot and grown the event over the last 17 years. The Fairy & Pirate Festival is one of my favorite events – children and adults come in great costumes and have so much fun with all the vendors’ activities and giveaways. I love seeing their excited faces. And I get to wear a costume!”

Leaving with a Full Heart

While she has made great strides in growing and improving the program, Daggon hopes the department will continue to achieve excellence and even improve the Budd Lake Beach. 

“I think that we have met and exceeded the goals and vision for our department over the years,” she says. “I expect that the department will continue to provide excellent programming and events in the years to come. I am very pleased with our team, their collaboration and enthusiasm.

“Our department is in good hands,” she adds. “Liz Meininger [who will be taking over as recreation supervisor] has worked with me for more than 15 years – she understands my heart and vision and can now take the department to the next level.”

She hopes that the recreation department will “continue developing/improving programs, facilities and events; maximize the use of marketing strategies to promote our programs and events; develop a volunteer program; encourage and improve our relationships with businesses and organizations in the greater Mt. Olive area.”  

As the recreation supervisor, Daggon admits that her full-time duties really utilized a lot of her evenings and weekends. While she is far from complaining, she realizes that in her retirement she looks forward to some free time. She knew two years ago that 2024 would be a good year for her to make this change. 

“In 2022, I told my staff that I would retire in two years,” she says. “I told administration more than a year ago that I would be retiring in 2024. We worked on succession planning and staff development for the last year.”

She is already filling up her calendar on all that she has missed. 

“Between working at the beach and then 25 years full-time as the recreation supervisor, I’ve made many sacrifices of time with my family,” she says. “Recreation happens during evenings, weekends and holidays! I’d like to spend time with my grandchildren, while they are still young. 

Her plans: “To do whatever I want, whenever and wherever!” she says. “That includes spending time with family, traveling, learning new things and volunteering. I still plan on volunteering with the New Jersey Recreation and Park Association. I am involved with many committees and will be a presenter at an educational session (with other phenomenal professionals) at their annual conference at the end of February.

As her last days approach before she begins her next chapter, Daggon thanks all who supported her. 

“There are so many people I want to thank who encouraged and supported (and continue to support) me over the years,” says Daggon. “Family First – my husband Jim and daughters Jamie and Jennifer. Mayor Paul Licitra was instrumental in the early part of my career and continues even now. Mayor Rob Greenbaum challenged me to plan bigger events and leverage them as opportunities for sponsorship. He actively participated in events and programs and sparked many ideas for new events. Mayor Joe Nicastro, even before becoming mayor, encouraged and supported our vision and events, helping to make them come to pass. All the township council members have been very supportive of our department and initiatives. And thanks to the Recreation Advisory Committee which has provided insight, suggestions and help every year.” 

She concludes with some healthy advice:

“Recreation is such a vital component of our health and wellness, for individuals, families and the whole community,” says Daggon. “Take time to enjoy being in our parks, coming to events, participating in programs – social and emotional wellness is as important as physical wellness. Laugh every day!”

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.