When Charlie Beale decided that it was time to retire, there were several people he knew he wanted to tell before going public.
One was Columbia County Commission Chairman Ron Cross.
"I respect him so much that I felt like I needed to tell him first," Beale said.
The others were staff members at the Columbia County Recreation Department, where Beale has served as director for more than 33 years.
Beale is quick to say how much he values his staff's contributions and commitment. That's because he has seen the grass on the other side of the fence, and it's far from greener. In fact, there was a time when Beale was the entire recreation department.
After graduating from Georgia Southern University in 1972, Beale worked for two years with the Augusta-Richmond County Recreation Department as district director for programs in West Augusta. It was a good fit at the time, he said, because he had worked every summer during college with either the city of Augusta or Richmond County before they consolidated.
Then, he took his first directorship, starting the Millen/Jenkins County Recreation Department.
"I was the only one there," Beale said. "I was living here, trying to sell a house here. ... I drove back and forth from Millen every day. I had a Pinto.
"I'd be there at 8 o'clock and get home at 10:30, 11 o'clock."
Beale did everything -- mark fields, buy and distribute equipment -- and it makes him appreciate the help he has today in Columbia County.
Mike Brodhecker said the respect level is mutual. The pair have been working together since 1978, and Brodhecker says Beale lets employees work without micromanaging them.
"He allows me to do my job," said the facilities supervisor for the recreation department. "He doesn't tell me everything I have to do every day ... so it's been good over the last 30 years."
After two years in Millen, Beale jumped at the opportunity to head Columbia County's department when its first director, Don Dearing, left the post.
"There were 26,000 people in the county at that time," Beale noted. "Since that time, (the recreation department) has just grown and the county has grown. I've tried to operate this department on a businesslike, professional manner, and I think that's part of the key to our success."
Beale has overseen numerous projects, from construction of Blanchard Park in 1976 to the opening of Blanchard Woods Park in 2007. When he started, Beale said, the department had Roberts Field in Martinez, two fields in Harlem, and one in Appling.
When Blanchard Park opened, the department moved its operations there, expanding after the move from a two-room building on Davis Road.
Patriots Park opened in 1992 and was built in phases. The department moved operations there in 1994.
In addition, the department built a second field in Appling, then two more fields in Harlem. Later, Riverside Park was developed and Reed Creek Park was planned. When the wetlands on Reed Creek Park started overtaking the tennis courts and playgrounds, they were relocated to Riverside Park and the Reed Creek location was converted to a nature park.
"A huge success," Beale said proudly of the park, which now features nature classes.
In addition, Beale oversaw the moving of the Professional Disc Golf Association headquarters from Toronto to Appling and the building of the PDGA International Disc Golf Center.
Beale said he had three career goals: to become a recreation director, to bring the department to a level of statewide recognition, and to become director of the Georgia Recreation and Parks Association.
The first two he accomplished long ago. The latter he achieved in 2000-01, when he served in the position with the GRPA. During that time, Beale worked closely with Jimmy Gisi, executive director of the GRPA.
"Where do you start?" Gisi said regarding Beale's accomplishments. "When you think of Charlie Beale, you think of the consummate professional.
"On top of what he's done in the local community, he's served his state well over the years."
Gisi said one of the more enjoyable parts of his job is seeing what the state's directors are doing. That includes Columbia County with Beale at the helm building facilities and programs with the help of the 1-percent sales tax.
Craig Sowell, director of the Tift County Recreation Department, also has worked with Beale for many years. He said he "hate(s) to see him retire," but said he's earned it.
"From my dealings with him, as a personal friend and as a professional, he's always been compassionate. He's always had the best interest of Columbia County and their citizens at heart."
Beale earned the GRPA Professional of the Year honor in 2005. Sowell said it's the most prestigious award for recreation directors, aside from earning a spot in the Hall of Honor.
Sports are a part of Beale's heritage. His uncle was a coach. His father signed a contract to play professional baseball with the Augusta Tigers. So it naturally followed that Beale found a sports-related career after playing baseball and football through high school.
"I don't know what I would've done. I don't know where I would be without the influence of sports," he said.
Beale plans to spend time with his grandchildren, do some traveling, and finish projects around the house that he hasn't been able to complete.
"I'm kind of looking forward to it," he said. "But I know I'm going to miss everybody out here."
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