Jan Ficken, grand marshal of the 2017 Tater Daze parade and manager of recreation programs and services, has seen a lot of changes and expansion in Brooklyn Park since she began working for the city 38 years ago.
Before entering parks and recreation with the city, Ficken was a teacher at then Brooklyn Junior High, now Brooklyn Middle School. She worked part-time for the city for approximately four years, when in 1984, as the Community Activity Center was constructed, she left teaching and started full-time as a community center programmer.
“I was then hired to do all the recreation programming that came along with opening a new, big community center,” she said.
Since then, Ficken has “had [her] hands on just about everything the department has done over the years,” she said.
Ficken has managed the Community Activity Center, created the original programs related to the city’s ice arenas, created original neighborhood park programming, and was involved with the construction of Zanewood Recreation Center. Ficken was also with the city during the construction of Edinburgh USA, and has overseen the addition of mobile recreation through the city’s Rec on the Go program.
“The department just grew by leaps and bounds in the 80s and 90s, because the community was growing,” she said. “Thirty years ago I was the only one running summer programs. Now it takes a little army.”
The department has expanded its programming offerings and touches all age groups, she said.
“I’m not sure if people really understand the depth of what recreation and parks really provides in our community,” Ficken said. “We’re part of building community through these events like Tater Daze that bring folks together to have fun and to meet new people and … to volunteer to help.
“Being a grand marshal is a great honor, to be selected by community members to be recognized as someone in the community that is respected and well known for the work that they do in the community,” she added. “[It’s] a real honor to celebrate the gathering and the community coming together for a weekend.
“I’ve been involved with Tater Daze all of my career,” Ficken said.
Her role with the festival has been largely in background support to ensure the event runs smooth, “making sure all the city departments work to support their efforts,” she said. “My job over the years has been to provide the support that our department, recreation and parks specifically, provides to ensure that Tater Daze is a safe, fun, family activity for the community.
“It takes the whole group working together to support this kind of a community event,” Ficken added. “We have tremendous city staff that support the Tater Daze program, all the way from the streets, to the police, fire [and] recreation.”
Since this will be Ficken’s last Tater Daze while on staff with the city, she asked to have the grand marshal convertible be positioned in front of the park and recreation department in the parade.
Tater Daze provides not only community pride, but also a time when the city can reflect on its history, Ficken said.
“This festival that was begun in the mid-1960s, by the Jaycees … it was to honor those agricultural roots, of which at that time there will still a lot of farms in Brooklyn Park,” she said.
And after nearly four decades, Ficken’s time with the city is nearly at a close—she will retire at the end of June.
Ficken said she plans to take things easy during the early stages of her retirement.
“I’m just going to take a little time to rest and reflect on the work that we’ve done in the recreation and parks department that I’ve been so lucky to be a part of … and see what other doors open up along the way,” she said.
“I’m just going to fill my calendar up with regular things, I’m going to drive the speed limit, I’m going to finish maybe three things fully each day—and I might take a nap,” she added, laughing. “It’s been a real hustle. This is a hustling business.”
Contact Kevin Miller at [email protected]