LEXINGTON - Over the past forty years, the faces at the Davidson County Recreation Department have changed. However, one has remained constant: Mary Ann Brown.
Starting in 1975 and working under many different Parks & Recreation directors, Brown has seen many changes.
“One day we woke up and our department had been cut to two people and funding was cut in
half,” said Brown. “We had to decide what we were going to do. I wanted to keep summer day camps, Special Olympics and senior services, along with many classes. The county made the decision to move senior services out from under recreation.”
In the past couple of years, there has been an emphasis on parks and facilities development beyond just offering athletic programming. As activities director, Brown’s day-to-day responsibilities include art classes, gardening classes, exercise classes, shag classes, yoga classes, line dance classes, pickle ball, and Special Olympics. She is the “Jack of All Trades” of the department.
Although Brown loves all the residents she works with in Davidson County, the ones that hold a special place in her heart are the Special Olympians.
She is the local coordinator of Special Olympics. When she began serving in the coordinator
capacity, the program was funded by Davidson County; however, over the years the county has
eliminated funding. Although the programming was approved by the county commissioners, private funding became necessary as a financial resource to continue supporting community initiatives. Today, the United Way runs the program and allows Brown to administer it through her office.
“The program has grown from about 25 athletes in the 1970’s to over 150 participants today,” said
Brown. “We offer 18 sports from Alpine Skiing and Snowboarding to Golf. It varies based on the
participants and how many coaches are available each year.”
She recounts the story of how one of her athletes, Stephanie Wilkerson, wanted to play on a softball team. Mary Ann told her she would like to have a team but did not have a coach. Wilkerson took it upon herself to write a letter to former Central Davidson High School softball coach, Gene Poindexter, asking if he would coach the team. Coach Poindexter did not have the heart to turn her down.
Brown revealed another Special Olympian story. “We have an athlete that when he first started in the pool, he wouldn’t let anyone touch him besides his mother,” said Brown. “He came into my office the other day and said, Mrs. Mary Ann, I’m going to compete in the back stroke. This same person was told by doctor’s he would never be able to do anything athletically.”
To hear Brown talk about Special Olympics, you would think each local athlete was her son or daughter. She proudly shares the fact that three local athletes from Special Olympics serve on the state athletic council. (No other county has three). Davidson County also has cycling Coach Debby Michael as the North Carolina Special Olympics Coach of the Year. Brown professes that Davidson County Special Olympics is the model program for the state.
When asked how she has been able to persevere forty-three years with Special Olympics? Brown is quick to respond.
“You just have to work with them one time and look in their eyes and you, too, will understand,” said Brown. “They inspire you through their hard work, and their spirit is so true. They are so honest; it just brings tears to your eyes. When I work with them I don’t see their inabilities, I see their abilities.”
Another responsibility of Brown’s is the summer day camp program. In 1975, there were thirteen sites. Today, there are six. Depending on the site, breakfast and lunch may be included and on certain days, people from the community are brought in to work with the campers. For example, Brown noted that the library, fire department, and dental hygienists have participated in the camps. She also pointed out that the State has come in and offered some dental sealants free of charge, saving parents approximately $1,000.00 per child. Typical camp days include crafts, games and movies. The camp fee is very modest at $5.00 per child per week.
Brown expressed that she is very fortunate to have the most handsome, loving and supportive husband of forty-seven years, Johnathan, who allows her to work many evenings and weekends.
When it comes to Special Olympics, he never, ever complains.
Brown also has twins, son, Jonathan and daughter, Heather. Her son was a very successful baseball coach at Central Davidson High School and is currently the principal of Yadkin Valley Career Academy. Her daughter resides in Winston-Salem as a stay-at-home mom with an 8-year-old daughter and 6-year-old twin boys.
One of the newest faces of the department, Thomas Marshburn, the director of Parks and
Recreation for Davidson County, conveys that Brown’s knowledge of the department, including
the history, is invaluable.
“When I first started here two years ago, I learned quite a bit on Mary Ann,” said Marshburn. “The day she retires, her shoes will not be able to be filled. In the past year, her pickle ball program has doubled in participation. She always is looking to get the next program going here. She supports the department’s athletic side and is a true team player.”
When prodded about what she would consider her fondest sports memory over the years, Brown replies that seeing her son play high school and college baseball would be that special memory.
Lastly, when Brown was asked if there was any other message that she wanted to communicate to the general public? She responded that if any county resident wanted to see a new class form to please give her a call and offer up the suggestion.
Mary Ann Brown, just call her Davidson County’s Mrs. Recreation. She is the consummate community servant.