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It’s Been a Labor of Love: Longtime Windsor Rec Director Ladue Stepping Down

  • Windsor Recreation Director Harry Ladue collects a donation of ice cream sandwhiches from Cumberland Farms in Windsor, Vt., Wednesday, May 9, 2018. The frozen treats will go to participants in the department's bike safety fair on Saturday, May 12. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Harry Ladue, left, is retiring after 25 years as director of the Windsor Recreation Department and James Aldrich, currently a recreation assistant, will take his place. "I'm his protege," said Aldrich. "More like my project," joked Ladue. Aldrich started working for Ladue at age 15 and was coached by him on the 2008 state champion Windsor basketball team. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Recreation Director Harry Ladue works in his office as a member signs in at the Windsor Recreation Center in Windsor, Vt., Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Ladue was instrumental in transforming the former High School into the recreation center. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Recreation Assistants Amber Heath, left, and James Aldrich, prepare to line the fields at the Windsor, Vt., fairgrounds Wednesday, May 9, 2018. Aldrich will take over as recreation director from Harry Ladue in June. "The rec was my gig when I was a kid," said Aldrich, grew up in Windsor and earned a degree in sports administration from Castleton Univeristy in 2014. "The rec just kind of became my family. Harry's seen me grow up since I was five-years-old." (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/12/2018 11:16:38 PM
Modified: 5/12/2018 11:16:40 PM

Windsor — After being named Windsor’s first recreation director 25 years ago, Harry Ladue helped found the Windsor Recreation Center and shape the department into a viable — and vibrant — activities outlet for both children and adults.

Ladue, 64, is stepping down from the position at the end of next month, but not because he doesn’t still enjoy it.

“I think if you ask anyone around here, they don’t think of what we do as work,” said Ladue, who has two assistants. “That being said, I am starting to enjoy my days off a little bit more. For the last 25 years, I’ve always had to pay attention to the next schedule, the next deadline. It’s about time that all I had to plan for is what I’m going to have for lunch, and where.”

Talk to anyone around Windsor about Ladue, and they’ll likely say he deserves that type of leisure after all he’s done for the recreation department.

He was one of the most devoted in a group of parent volunteers who coached, scheduled, lined fields and refereed all of the youth sports in town until convincing the Selectboard to implement a recreation director in 1993.

Ladue was part of a committee charged with recruiting for the position, but no strong candidates emerged.

“We looked over a lot of the applications, and we just couldn’t find anyone who we thought would be a great fit,” said Ladue, who at the time was 39 years old and worked for a Hartland-based log home builder. “I was kind of looking for a career change and someone said, ‘Why don’t you do it?’ ” Eventually, I gave in.”

After three years with an office at the former fire station on Main Street, Ladue saw a big opportunity when plans were announced for a new Windsor Junior and Senior High School. With the gymnasium as its epicenter, the then-current school, he realized, would make an excellent recreation facility.

Ladue co-founded the Friends of Windsor Recreation, who convinced the Selectboard to greenlight the building as a recreation center.

Many of the costs associated with securing the building’s continued viability — including a $40,000 new central heating system — were taken on by Ladue and the Friends group.

“The building needed a lot of (renovation) work, which meant a lot of work for us to do fundraisers,” Ladue recalled. “We had a lot of spaghetti dinners, because they were really popular. People would pay $20 to feed their whole family, and I think they knew they were contributing to something good.”

A lot of good things, as it turned out. Aside from steady youth sports offerings, all-ages programs such as table tennis, spinning and karate took shape. So did expanded extracurricular youth activities like archery and a bike safety fair to get kids primed for riding season.

All of those programs and more continue, along with a weight room abutting one side of the gym that today contains an impressive array or elliptical and cardiovascular equipment, much of it donated, to complement free weights. Abutting the other side is a spinning room and a multi-purpose room that is popular for children’s birthday parties. The department even offers an inflatable bounce house for such gatherings.

James Aldrich, a 2008 Windsor High graduate who will take over as the town’s recreation director this July, has been volunteering at the center since high school. He’s spent the last several years as Ladue’s assistant and has learned much by way of his guidance.

“I think one of the big things Harry has shown me is that he is always thinking about what we can offer people,” Aldrich said. “It’s never about what he can get, but what can he give back.”

The vibrancy of the recreation center today is the realization of a vision Ladue had when the building first became available. Phil Hathorn, Ladue’s brother-in-law, has known him since they were three-sport teammates at Windsor High in the late 1960s.

“He had a lot of foresight, to see what the building could become,” said Hathorn, whose sister, Cindy, Harry’s wife, died in 2015. “A lot of recreation departments were starting up in the Upper Valley at that time, and he knew the youth in town needed something like this. Not just a place to go, but a little structure.”

Ladue has naturally witnessed changes over the years, perhaps most notably a decrease in youth participation in team sports. The baseball program, for example, caters to about one-third of the 300 or so players it fielded during its ’90s heyday.

“We used to have so many players, because kids from Hartland, Cornish and Weathersfield were all coming to us at that point,” Ladue said. “We didn’t even travel because we didn’t have to. All of our games were in town.”

Fewer athletes means less funding from registration fees, but supplemental programs and other initiatives have helped the department continue to raise 40-50 percent of its own budget annually, according to town manager Tom Marsh. The budget for the department this fiscal year is about $260,000.

“Harry has always been fiscally responsible, which is a lot different than being ‘cheap!’ ” Marsh wrote in an email. “He presents a thoughtful budget each year that balances the recreational interests of the community with their ability to provide fiscal support.”

Ladue, who has been the Windsor High boys varsity basketball coach for 35 seasons, still plans to maintain that post for the foreseeable future.

He’s led the program to five VPA state championships, including a Division III crown in March, 10 years after a team that included Aldrich won in 2008.

“I have no plans to step down from there; there’s no timeline for that,” Ladue said. “I still enjoy everything about it but the bus trips, and I can live with that.”

As for the recreation center, those who would miss Ladue needn’t fret. He’ll still be around occasionally, once again a volunteer for a department he was integral in constructing.

“He’ll probably be the most difficult person to replace that I’ve ever met,” said Marsh, in his seventh year as Windsor town manager. “I keep telling him, ‘This whole set up should be called the Harry Ladue Recreation Program, because you built it.’ ”

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3225.




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