Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

April 11, 2014

HR director reflects on career at Pathways

ASHLAND — John Parks, the first and only human resources director for Pathways, has been with the corporation for longer than some employees have been alive.

Starting in 1973, Parks has worked at Pathways for 41 years. On Friday, his co-workers arranged a traditional retirement party as a way of saying final goodbyes before he packs his bags for North Carolina on Tuesday.

As he sat in his office overlooking the city from his eighth-floor balcony, Parks recounted his past several years at Pathways that have shaped most of his adult life.

He said he has watched the company grow in tremendous ways, seeing it double its service region from five counties to 10, merging staffs with the Cave Run branch and watching co-workers retire, only to be replaced later by their children.

A big hurdle for Parks will be keeping busy while in retirement.

He said he is used to being engaged in the community and working hard in the HR department, but he has a few ideas for how to occupy his time.

“I plan to enjoy spending time with my grandchildren, do some fishing and continue to play golf,” he said. His two grandchildren live in North Carolina with Parks’ daughter, while his sister and her four children live in Virginia, so frequent traveling will be included in his retirement plans.

But after 41 years at Pathways, Parks admits it will not be easy to move on.

“I’m a little ambivalent about it,” he said. “It’s all I know.”

Former CEO and friend of Parks, Dick Stai, retired five years ago and said Parks has to use his own advice to adjust to retirement properly.

“He has to figure out the best way for him to make the transition — to start redefining himself,” Stai said.

Parks was an advocate for constant redefinition at Pathways, as was evident during remarks made by employees at the retirement party.

Gwen Corwin read a short list containing “words of wisdom” from Parks.

“The corporation is the same as a living, breathing person. It has to be constantly redefined or it will fail,” she read.

Along with these words of wisdom, employees were invited to share funny memories made while working with Parks, an opportunity that many took advantage of.

Corwin shared a particularly interesting story about a prank she used to pull on a co-worker whose desk was inside a computer lab.

She said she would often surprise the lady by sneaking up on her while the computer lab was dark and quickly “flashing” her when she least expected it.

Unfortunately, there was a time when Corwin ended up as the one being “surprised” during the prank.

“So I watched John walk out the door. I checked to make sure that he was actually gone and when it was clear, I popped up in the doorway and lifted my shirt and, at about that time, John had come back into the room,” she said to a room full of laughter.

“This was a PG-13 flash. I did not expose myself, but I did show myself. Needless to say, John and I did not speak for the next year,” she said, explaining that they became good friends later on.

Just as many of the stories shared that evening were as funny as they were sentimental. At one point, Greg Brown and a few other employees presented Parks with gifts, but the most extravagant present was a metal walker decorated with a rearview mirror, an AARP umbrella, bicycle horn and prune juice in a cup holder.

“I do love Pathways. It was my first real job,” Parks told the room of employees, thanking them for working together to best serve their clients.

If Parks could revisit his former self when he began work with Pathways, he said he would tell himself to never make decisions when mad and to always take time to think through to the best possible solution before rushing into anything.

“It’s like doing marital therapy,” he said, adding that each decision he has to make as HR director is approached by being diplomatic, yet firm.

He said though he is sad to see this chapter in his life end, he is thankful for his Pathways family and is confident incoming HR Director Shawn Brown will have no problem taking over.

“He is doing very well. He basically learned the whole job in the first few weeks so now we just sit together and have coffee,” Parks said.

LANA BELLAMY can be reached at lbellamy@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2653.

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