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After 39 years at the park and rec district, Jim McMaster's impact on the community is lasting

GARY ALLEN - Longtime water polo coach and Chehalem Park and Recreation District facilities manager Jim McMaster was recognized earlier this year when the competition pool at the Chehalem Aquatic Center was named after him.

Sitting with his legs crossed and right arm stretched casually over the back of the couch, Jim McMaster took a moment to reflect. On his right, a newly renovated fitness center experienced its first week of public use. On his left, the aquatic center's competition pool awaited another night of club water polo.

Both facilities exist thanks in large part to the work of McMaster, who recently retired from his position at the Chehalem Park & Recreation District after 39 years.

"My goal was to create facilities that would keep people in Newberg and keep enjoying their community," McMaster said. "I really wanted to see more things happen in that realm and I had the opportunity to be project manager for multiple big things."

McMaster managed projects including the Chehalem Cultural Center, the CPRD aquatic center and its adjacent fitness center. His career with CPRD began in 1980, when he left graduate school at Chico State University to take a job managing the aquatic center.

At the time, the facility was in disarray. Multiple people had been fired and the facility was grossly mismanaged. At 24 years old, McMaster saw a challenging task in front of him when he arrived in Newberg — then a small town just half the population it is today.

"One of the major things is I was able to provide the public with more opportunities for recreation in the community," McMaster said. "When I went into parks, we went from five to 21 developed parks. We had tremendous support from the community and different civic clubs to make this community more livable."

A lot has changed in nearly four decades. McMaster started the water polo program at Newberg High School, met his wife — a George Fox University graduate — and had two sons grow up in the area and graduate from NHS.

McMaster's water polo teams have won 35 combined state championships, produced countless collegiate athletes and one Olympian. He was involved with the U.S. National Team as well — traveling around the country with them for a time and getting a glimpse of the sport at its highest level.

But even if you take away all the success in the sports world, McMaster still had an indelible impact on Newberg and its surrounding communities.

His name is on the aquatic center competition pool for a reason. It is the most notable of many projects that have McMaster's signature attached.

Without the support of the community, though, McMaster said none of what CPRD has achieved could have happened.

"Because we're so small town, we have a really good community feel," he said. "This aquatic and fitness center, when it was built, it was built with the passion of community members. I don't think you'll see that up in Tigard, Portland or some other areas. The folks came together here to make something happen for their community – and that says a lot."

While he is retiring from his job with CPRD, McMaster plans to still coach water polo year-round and continue living in Newberg. He said the community has given so much to him, so it's his duty to keep giving back and leaving an impact where he can. That includes his continued involvement in Rotary organizations as well.

McMaster said he is thankful for the leadership of his boss, Don Clements, who gave him the freedom to succeed at CPRD.

"Don has pretty much let me do my thing over the years," McMaster said. "He's got a lot of ideas and we've worked together most of the time on getting those ideas accomplished. We've had a really good board of directors that want to do things for the community."

The fitness center was McMaster's last big project before he retired. Now, he plans to travel the country and explore opportunities to backpack, hike and bike on trails in multiple states. He will also visit his son, who is working for the Peace Corps in a remote part of Africa.

McMaster won't disappear into the wilderness now that he's done with his full-time job, though. His retirement was a slow burn rather than an eventful exit. It's going to take a lot to keep him from roaming the facilities he had a hand in building, whether he's coaching or providing guidance on the next steps for the community's most important facilities.

Even as he sat, relaxed, in the lobby of the aquatic center, a CPRD employee approached and asked for a few minutes of his time. McMaster was glad to provide it. What's a few minutes after 39 years, after all?

Cracking a smile behind his gray mustache, McMaster got temporarily sentimental about his time in Newberg.

"Being able to provide recreational opportunities for this community as it has grown is what I'm most proud of," he said. "I was honored to be accepted by this community and provide more for them. A lot of great people live here and it's been great to grow here with my family."

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