- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

GRAHAM, N.C. (AP) - Melody Wiggins works out of her own playbook.

“I like being on the cutting edge,” she said, “new technology, new ways to play.”

As recreation and parks director in Graham, Wiggins said, she has had to be creative to provide the system people need, but with a tighter budget than some of the town’s neighbors.

“We just have to work a little harder at it,” Wiggins said.

So, it is especially impressive the city is getting a 118-acre park on Jim Minor Road with some features you just can’t find anywhere else in this area. Wiggins talks about a playground equipped for parents and children to play side by side, or for children to play side by side with disabled friends or relatives.

“We want families to play together,” she said.

Of course there will be swings parents can push their kids on, but they will also be able to swing themselves with their babies face to face in something called an expression swing.

“There’s not been anything like that in this area,” Wiggins said. “It’s all very intentional the things we chose to put out here.”

This is the last full week of Wiggins‘ career as recreation and parks director. It has been 35 years in three towns, 21 of those years in Graham. For seven, she has been working on the regional park, the first phase or which should open in the spring. She has been heavily involved in the details and shows a lot of pride in seeing it come together.

Once, Wiggins, said, she planned on going to seminary, and she still talks about mission and the motivation of seeing people get health and happiness from what she provides.

“This is my calling,” she said. “It gives me great joy to give something back.”

Wiggins, 55, came a long way to get where she is. She was the first of her family to get a college education, and she grew up in a time when there weren’t recreation league sports for girls. Her career also put her in front of the community and its leaders, which was not natural for her, but something she learned to like.

Wiggins always cared about sports. She played three of them - softball, volleyball and basketball - but not until high school. There were no youth-league sports for girls in Stokes County when Wiggins was 12, so she did what a lot of athletic girls did: joined a women’s church softball team.

Her coach was a college student named Kathy White, who worked in recreation and parks. She was about seven years older than Wiggins, and became a life-long friend and an important mentor in a field where there weren’t many women through much of Wiggins‘ career. As a kid, Wiggins would help out White at work, and she learned the ropes. These days, they would call it shadowing.

“She let me hang around with her during the day,” Wiggins said.

By the time Wiggins got to college at Appalachian State University, she had a pretty strong direction.

In retirement, Wiggins wants to spend some time visiting her family. She was one of four, and they are scattered all over the country. There are a lot of national parks she wants to see, but she is not done with her calling.

She is still involved in softball as a coach and official in college and adult leagues, and she trains umpires. She has done a lot of teaching at UNC-Greensboro, and locally will spend a lot of time working with organizations like Friends of Graham Recreation and Parks. She also plans to play some golf.

“So,” she said, “I think I’ll be quite busy.”

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Information from: Times-News, http://www.thetimesnews.com

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