City budget leads Rucker to retirement

       E.D. Rucker, a 28-year City Parks employee who has directed the Westside's community center since 2001, will retire after Dec. 24. He has taken the Voluntary Attrition Retirement (VAR) that the city made available to older, long-time workers this year as part of its effort to reduce the budget.

Westside Community Center Director E.D. Rucker stands by a display of the fall brochure.
Westside Pioneer photo

       In an interview this week, Rucker said he will miss the Westside, which he described as a “culturally rich” part of town, a place that “people don't know if they haven't immersed themselves in it… There's an independent thought process on the Westside, a live-and-let-live attitude that makes it unique. It's a different social dynamic, and I've had to learn that.”
       How - or even if - the city will replace him is still not certain, Rucker said. As evidenced by his VAR, Rucker is leaving at a time of city financial uncertainty, when the center itself faces potential closure at the end of March. City officials have talked about finding ways to make the center self-supporting. Rucker is dubious whether that's possible, considering how its activities are often more of a service to people than they are income-generating, and if a fee is too high the people that need the center most can't afford it.
       Overall, looking back on his career, he said working for the city “has been a good run. What I'll take away with me are the good, positive things in the community. I wanted to go out with 30 years, but I can't. The city's having a rough time.”
       The Westside Community Center (its formal name now, as recently approved by the city) started as the West Intergenerational Center in 1992 inside the northwest part of West Middle School. To make room for the new West Elementary, the center relocated in June to the former Buena Vista Elementary site, which has considerably more space. Until the city's 2010 budget crunch, Rucker had spoken eagerly about the possibilities for community uses at the new site.
       Rucker was first assigned to West in 1999, as part of his work with city community centers going back to 1986. A milestone for him was guiding the development of the Hillside Community Center - from 1987 when it was in the old Sinton Dairy House, through the opening of the new facility in 1990 and up through 1998. A major memory from his Hillside days was a visit from Hillary Clinton (not yet the First Lady) in 1992. He doesn't recall anything in particular about the visit, just being “blown away” that it happened.
       In the early 1980s, the former college football running back had overseen the city's youth sports programs - a job he's amazed he was able to manage in the era before there were personal computers to keep track of all the names and related data.
       Working in community centers, particularly at Hillside, Rucker pointed out that the hardest part was dealing with the politics. Sometimes he would receive direction from higher-ups to give special consideration to certain groups or individuals and, even though he might disagree, his job required a certain compliance. At the same time, he pointed out that in a community center setting, “there's a fine line between what you give to the city and what you give to the community. You have to give to the community because if you don't you get exposed very quickly as a bureaucrat. It's a matter of integrity. You can't just do your work and go home.”
       He said the thing he is proudest of was working through some of those politics. When the new Hillside first opened, he said, all the different social or ethnic groups seemed to think it was for everyone else and so many people didn't use it. By the time Rucker left eight years later, “all the boundaries were broken down,” he said. “It was the place where everyone went.”
       Rucker has no big plans for his future, other than to visit kids and grandkids in California and Texas. He has a part-time opportunity to work in a financial services position, which he's looking forward to as a major divergence from his past work. Physically, he's in his best shape in years, thanks to recent knee surgery, so he'll be able to get back to side work he's done as a football referee and baseball umpire.

Westside Pioneer article