Columbia County Recreation Director Charlie Beale announced his retirement Monday.
Beale, 62, is only the second person to serve as the director of the department, succeeding Don Dearing in 1976.
Beale had announced his retirement to his staff during a luncheon Friday to wrap up the Dixie Ponytails World Series, an 11-state tournament held last week at Patriots Park, said Community and Leisure Services Director Barry Smith.
"I was very surprised, and I hate to lose him," Smith said. "Charlie will be hard to replace. He's an icon in the county."
Because of accrued leave and the county's current hiring restrictions, a successor for Beale might not be hired until early next year, Smith said.
"It's been fun; it's been exciting; it's been enjoyable," Beale said. "I've always come at recreation like a pastor. You've got to have a certain calling to deal with it."
During his 33-year tenure, Beale has seen the department grow from four baseball fields to a number of major parks, including Blanchard Woods, Patriots and Wildwood.
He has also seen the programs evolve over the years, from the domination of baseball in the early years to the current mix, which includes soccer, softball, basketball and football.
In addition to coping with the county's growth during his more than three decades, Beale said, his greatest challenge has been fending off efforts to privatize recreation offerings.
"My philosophy in the county (is) that every child should have the opportunity to participate in the program," Beale said.
An Augusta native and a graduate of Georgia Southern University, Beale worked in recreation in Richmond and Jenkins counties before moving to Evans when he took over the department.
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