Eugene Young retired from his position as Superintendent of the Recreation and Park Commission for East Baton Rouge Parish (BREC) in Louisiana in 2003. He worked for BREC for over 50 years and for the last 42 years was Superintendent of that system. He worked tirelessly to build the BREC system piece by piece as it evolved from a small unheralded agency, into one of the most respected local park systems in the United States. When he took over as Superintendent, BREC had 26 parks and a $710,944 annual budget. When he retired, BREC operated 186 parks (5600 acres), 63 centers, and had an annual budget of $32 million.
While a student at Thomas Jefferson High School in Port Arthur, Texas, Gene decided that he wanted to devote his life to being a recreation professional. His career commenced in 1943 at the age of 15 when he became a camp counselor at Camp Rio Vista in Kerrville, Texas. After 18 months service with the U.S. Army in Korea, he went to college and earned a BS in Administration of Youth Serving Agencies from the University of Texas in 1951, which was followed by a MS in Recreation Administration from Indiana University in 1952. Upon graduating from Indiana, Young accepted a position with BREC as Assistant Superintendent. For the first eight years at BREC he was in charge of developing programs, but in 1960 he was promoted to Superintendent.
Young did not apply for the Superintendent’s position because BREC had little public support at the time, but he reluctantly accepted it. He recalled, "We didn’t have any money for anything. Television would call me up and make me stand by grass that was two feet high in some park and say ‘Now why aren’t you cutting the grass?" Young was making the point that if residents wanted the grass cut in their parks they had to authorize resources. It was from this inauspicious beginning that Gene Young built BREC.
Under Gene Young’s leadership, BREC received the National Gold Medal Award as the top agency of its size class in the country on two occasions, in 1975 and 1991, and was a finalist for the eleventh time in his final year as Superintendent. After rejecting a property tax referendum soon after Young became Superintendent in 1960, BREC voters supported all eleven subsequent tax referenda for parks and recreation which were presented to them while he was Superintendent. One of the novel aspects of BREC funding was Young’s dislike of borrowing money. When he discovered in 1968 that BREC had paid more in interest in paying off bonds authorized in a 1954 bond election than it had received from the bond principal, Gene decided all projects from then on would be done on a pay-as-you-go financing basis. They would be build only if BREC had the money. In 1994, BREC became one of the first four park and recreation agencies to be nationally accredited in this field.
Gene Young recognized that a good parks and recreation system has to accommodate a conglomerate of special interest groups and must serve all. Accordingly, he deliberately created an unusually broad array of service offerings. Among the major facilities built during his tenure at BREC were a $30 million, 80 acre zoo, a 15 acre arboretum, two major stadiums, a velodrome, a $3 million horse activities center, an historic park, an art gallery, a specially equipped park for handicapped children, a theater and performing arts building, Bluebonnet swamp, an observatory, a botanical garden and many more.
One of his long time colleagues noted, "The man lives, eats and breathes quality recreation and parks programs and services." All who had the privilege of interacting with Gene Young quickly became aware that he was a humble man who unfailingly attributed his success to those around him. The staff at BREC revered him. Without exception, they spoke of "Mr. Young" not Gene. This was nothing he affected, but was simply an indicator of the extraordinary respect that everyone in BREC had for him. He was a courtly, southern gentleman whose mantra was "service to the people of East Baton Rouge." He lived and breathed BREC. He was never outworked by anyone on his staff in his 50 years at the organization, and never asked the staff to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. He was a beacon who inspired others to be better and to do better by his strong sense of character, honesty and integrity, and his loyalty to the community. His reputation in the community was captured in an editorial, "Gene Young doesn’t do lunch. ‘I don’t eat lunch with people we do business with. I kinda get shook about it,’ Young said." The editorial goes on to state that Young was "smart, ethically above reproach and a world-class tightwad."
There are few, in any, who can match Gene Young’s 45 years of membership in the Louisiana and the 50 years in the National Recreation and Park Associations. He was president and vice-president of the Louisiana Recreation and Park Association twice. He wrote their first constitution, proposed their first certification program, and published their first newsletter.
His 18 years as a professional member of the NRPA Board of Trustees is a record which may never be broken. In recognition of this contribution, he was conferred with the honorary title of "Lifetime Trustee" by NRPA–the only practicing professional in the field who has been accorded that honor. In addition, he was recognized with Distinguished Professional Awards by NRPA, the APRS Branch of NRPA, the NRPA Southwest Region, the Louisiana RPA, and the National Association of Counties.