Ann Dunleavy works hard so others can play.

Ann oversees the City of Benicia’s recreation programs—everything from swimming to sewing lessons. She and her staff work to ensure that the city Parks & Community Services Department offers classes and programs that meet the community’s needs.

All the programs are detailed in an activity guide mailed three times a year to residents. Want to take hula lessons? See page 25 in the current guide. Got a yearning to learn Spanish? Page 33. How about martial arts for the kids? Page 16. The eclectic offerings reflect what’s been popular and what residents have requested over the years.

“We’re here for the community, for every age range,” Ann says. “You can start swim lessons as young as 6 months in the parent-tot classes, and we serve through seniors.”

Ann, 47, joined the city’s staff 17 years ago as a recreation supervisor. She is now the superintendent of parks and community services. The job is a great fit for Ann, who loved being a camp counselor in high school and was a recreation supervisor at Rossmoor before coming to Benicia. She majored in parks and recreation studies at Sacramento State University.

“We used to get laughed at—everyone else said, ‘You’re just playing games, you’re just having fun,’ ” says Ann, a Benicia resident since 2008. “They were the ones who were missing out.”

Having fun remains important to Ann, who values the friendships she has built over the years with co-workers.

“I still come to work and have fun,” she says, recalling visits from past lifeguards and other department employees. “I want to be someone who creates memories for people.”

Did you think you’d be working for a city recreation program when you were growing up? I went to college in hopes of becoming a teacher, but it did not come easy to me. Someone suggested taking an entry-level recreation class to fulfill some of my general requirements—I think it was Introduction to Recreation and Leisure Studies. When I walked into the classroom and learned about the curriculum, I thought I’d found my place.

I switched majors as quickly as possible. I didn’t even know it existed, but I knew it was what I wanted to do.

What motivated you to come to work in Benicia? After six years at Rossmoor, I wanted to expand and work with other ages. I missed working with youth.  

But I still love working with seniors.  The Senior Center here has a very special place in my heart. I try to go over and call bingo once a month. The people there are having a great time—they love to be social.

How many people are on the Community Services staff? I have five people who report directly to me: three recreation supervisors and two administrative staff.

The size of the staff varies depending on the time of year. We have 200 part-timers at the height of summer and about 75 in our slowest season. They are park attendants, lifeguards, scorekeepers at the ballfield, swim instructors, they open and close the gym every day—they do everything.

We have the greatest work force, and they come back year after year. When job openings do come up, they are really competitive. We have a junior lifeguard program and a counselor-in-training program so young people can volunteer and get experience.

How do you decide what classes to add to the city offerings? People will say they wish we had more art, for example, and then it’s finding people who have the talent and time to teach. Most classes are taught by contract instructors.  It’s a matter of finding all the needs and wants of the community and finding someone who has time to teach an ongoing class.

What programs have you added as a result of a request from the community? Sandy Kirkpatrick came to the city and said we have to start offering Pickleball. It’s a cross between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. She was more than happy to teach, so we ordered equipment and found gym time.

It is a hit. We have it here at the Community Center and at the City Gym. This group is blossoming.  We’re hoping to get courts at the Community Park.  It’s just $1 to drop in. We have more fun sitting at the counter and hearing them whoop it up after a good rally.

Our department and our director are very much about doing what we need to do to serve the community.

The Community Center is now 5 years old. How has the facility affected your department? It is the greatest addition to this program. First and foremost, we’re all in the same house. It used to be management and administration were at City Hall and the program coordinators were at the Youth Center.  Being together has allowed us to develop a stronger sense of team

It’s wonderful for the community also. You get to see things in action and get all your questions answered in one place, whether you want to sign up for a class or you want to reserve a facility.

Now we have Tiny Tots here, all the after-school programs are all here, the classes are all here, the entire staff is all here. When they were separate, you didn’t have a sense of everything we offered.

How has the facility affected programming? We knew going into this that we needed more health and wellness programs. It used to be the main thing was after-school programs, now we’re busy all day. We have Tai Chi starting at 9, and the multi-purpose room is full. We have senior exercise from 9 until 12:30 or 1, and then Pickleball comes in. The kids are in school and yet this building is full of life.

We also have a whole group of recently retired people who are active and in their 50s and 60s, and they’re not going to the Senior Center, where the average ages are 80s and 90s. So we’ve added programs for them.

What are you goals for your department moving forward? We have a lot of modernizing to do, especially with technology. We have a couple of things coming up that are exciting.

Besides the recreation programs, we also handle the cemetery. We are purchasing software that will allow us to map out the City Cemetery and have that map online. That will allow people to research online and easily navigate the cemetery. This is a long-term project—it’s going to take some time to do.  It also will make it easier for people who are grieving. We’re really excited to modernize that for people at their darkest time. It’s on deck, but it is a long-term project to do the mapping.

We’re also getting a new software program that will show all our programs online and let people register online. A lot of things that people have asked for will be possible with this system. For example, right now you have to come in every month to pay for after-school programs. This will let you do auto-pay.

We get calls every day about different facilities: Is this date available? You’ll be able to check online for availability. You’ll still have to come in to reserve the building, but you’ll be able to do some things online that are long overdue.

Anything we can do to make it easier, we want to do.

What do you do for recreation? I don’t do nearly enough. I took tennis lessons through here (the city) and met some great friends. I go to the gym after work. Every year, I walk in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

What do you do to relax? I try to spend as much time with family as I can—my sisters and their families, and our parents.  I love being with my friends.

I do love a good book. I just finished All the Light We Cannot See—that was beautiful. I read The Nightingale over the summer. So I’ve read a lot of World War II books lately. The Senior Center has a lending library—All the Light We Cannot See came from there.

Do you have a favorite park? I love Ninth Street—it has such a beautiful view. I love walking the Bay Trail, starting near Third and Semple’s Crossing and going out to the marina. I love the Marina Green. Anything with waterways, I just love.