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Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo to retire

By: Nick Mordowanec | Fraser - Clinton Township Chronicle | Published March 3, 2020

 Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo is retiring March 27.

Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo is retiring March 27.

Photo by Deb Jacques

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Clinton Township Parks and Recreation Director Frank Pizzo said that’s his favorite quote, and it well defines his worldview. He will be retiring March 27 after about 32 years of working in the department.

Pizzo, 54, calls himself a “local boy,” attending Ottawa Elementary, Algonquin Middle School and Chippewa Valley High School. He bought his first home in the township. He raised his son and daughter there.

His original life plans involved going into education, until he became a seasonal recreational employee in 1988. At the time former director Linda Walter was in charge, working on a budget of about $60,000 after starting the department in 1982.

She told Pizzo, who was attending Central Michigan University, to get a minor in recreation if he saw a future for himself in the field of parks and recreation. He did, and returned to become assistant director in 1991. The budget had increased to almost $600,000.

He attributes the crux of his own successes to Walter, who he said taught him to “never stay status quo.” She always implored utilizing different skill sets and seeking out trends that define communities and their demographics.

“(Walter’s) just been an incredible influence on my life, and a great mentor,” Pizzo said. “I couldn’t have trained under anybody better in the state of Michigan, and probably the United States to be honest.

“I got all my values from her. Of course, your parents (teach values). I always say this: Your parents are important, for sure, and then it’s your teachers. And in your workforce, it’s who your bosses are. Luckily, I had Linda Walter, who directed me for 25 years.”

Walter said that in Pizzo, she saw “his drive, his energy, his enthusiasm, and his willingness to do more of what was expected.” He was the piece of the puzzle that made the department a permanent fixture in the township — a department that, at the time, was operating out of a room about the size of a closet, where plans were drawn on tables and cabinets sat in hallways.

Pizzo was the first full-time hire she made. She said the two found common ground in the fact that “we never let our circumstances stop us from doing more.”

“We see the world the same way in a lot of ways, in terms of service and commitment. … The things that matter most to get the job done, we get it,” Walter said. “You don’t even say things to each other because you know it. Having someone shoulder to shoulder with you, it’s special.”

Walter left Clinton Township in 2014 to become the director of the Outdoor Adventure Center in Detroit. Pizzo was promoted to the director position in April of that year and aimed to continue the culture that Walter started.

He touted events like the daddy daughter dance, which started with about 25 pairs many years ago at the Algonquin cafeteria, and recently had over 600 pairs at a local banquet hall. The summer day camp program, complete with a lunch pass for kids, has about 900 enrollees at 13 different sites and could exceed over 1,000 in the future.

“We do community events better than anybody,” he said. “When people come to our events they go, ‘Wow, you can tell it’s a Clinton Township Parks and Recreation event.’ … This (Board of Trustees), I am so excited about (them). This complete board right now sees the value of quality of life, that’s the field I’m in.”

Pizzo is excited about what the department’s future holds — be it connecting paths and trails, a splash pad, acquiring more park property or doing more events across the township. Pizzo said his department doesn’t “follow a zip code” when it comes to programming.

Running a department while living in the same community has made him cognizant of what his neighbors feel, think and want. There is a youth movement taking place.

He said the department’s most recent trick-or-treat trail event consisted of about 80% of kids 5 years and younger.

“That tells me that we have a whole other generation of kids coming into our programs. … I’ve never been more excited about parks and recreation and quality of life in the township,” he said. “Now there is absolutely no reason why you wouldn’t want to live in Clinton Township.”

Recently, Pizzo’s mother, Julia, and father, Sam, died. Pizzo told his father before he died that he planned to retire at 55 years old. His father, who ran Fairway Plaza at the intersection of Garfield and Canal roads, said he was too young to leave his job.

But Pizzo has accomplished much of what he set out to do. His life will continue in different facets: spending more time with his wife and children, running Fairway Plaza as a landlord with his brother and two sisters, and conducting youth mentorship programs locally and maybe nationally.

He is more than comfortable leaving the department to the capable staff he has overseen for years.

“You see your parents pass away and you see life’s too short,” he said. “Is retirement too early? I don’t think so. … I’ve always said, it’s about making memories that last a lifetime.”