Soon-to-be-retired Huron Parks and Rec administrator Thez Langbehn reflects in the P&R office at the Huron Campus Center, in front of one of the largest projects that the city has taken on during her time, the Central Park and Splash Central Water Park. PHOTO BY ROGER LARSEN/PLAINSMAN
HURON – Thez Langbehn has always made sure to watch out for the little guy or gal.
They are the kids who aren’t destined to be the city’s next high school quarterback or a starter on the girl’s basketball team.
But they are important, too.
Making sure they have recreation options is something Langbehn has always believed to be her role in the city parks and recreation department.
“I’m from the old school in recreation, so my main goal was to provide constructive leisure time activities for the kids and the adults for everybody that wanted to play,” she said.
Too often the focus is on feeder programs for high school athletics. Langbehn thinks that’s fine, but says those kids are always going to have their athletics.
“What about all the kids that don’t have that opportunity?” she said. “If you don’t provide that opportunity for all those kids, where are they? My job is to pick up the ones that don’t have that in their life.”
It’s been more than her job.
It’s been her passion. For more than 35 years.
Langbehn retires as recreation specialist for the Huron Parks and Recreation Department at the end of this week. In her time with the city, she has seen tremendous growth in recreation program offerings and the quality venues where the games are played.
Huron hosts tournaments for baseball and softball, for soccer and darts, and the number of teams coming here to compete and have fun will only increase.
“Whether it’s baseball tournaments that come to Huron or if it’s softball tournaments … we’ve had a lot of softball tournaments over the last few years, and I’m hoping that continues when I’m done,” Langbehn said.
“It generates a lot of money for the city itself,” she said.
Langbehn grew up in Huron and graduated from high school in 1968. She went on to earn a degree in physical education at Huron College in 1972.
She taught and coached for a year at Timber Lake, where she worked with kids ranging from first graders to high school seniors.
Langbehn then spent about a year on a crew that built Harvestore silos, those tall, dark blue silos that dot the South Dakota landscape.
She served in the Army for two years in Georgia, where she was a physical activity specialist. It meant helping with everything from recreation activities to 25-mile road marches.
When her military service ended, she accepted a job as the women’s director for the Auburn, Ala., Parks and Recreation Department.
After three and a half years there, she came home to Huron in 1981. In 1982, she was hired by the city of Huron where she has worked alongside Parks and Recreation Director LaRon Klock ever since.
“I do all the programming and supervision of youth and adult recreation programs,” Langbehn said.
One of the biggest challenges as the start of each season draws near is to find coaches to fill all the positions.
“You’re looking for coaches for all your kids’ programs,” she said. “The adult ones kind of take care of themselves because they come in as teams.”
In her role, she has met thousands of people from all walks of life as they sign up to enjoy recreation programs the city offers as a quality of life benefit.
“I think the diversity,” Langbehn answered when asked what she has liked the most about her job. “I think what keeps me going is all the kids and the people that you’re involved with every day.”
On bulletin boards on two walls in her office she has pinned photos of all the boys and girls she has come in contact with as they participated in youth sports. Despite the passage of time, Langbehn has kept track of many of them, and in more recent years has posted pictures of the kids of adults who she met when they were young.
She named some of those adults who she met when they played sports in city programs, who went on to work summers for the parks and recreation department and who now are watching their own kids play.
So it’s kind of cool to have been a part of all that as they’re growing up,” Langbehn said.
She said Huron doesn’t have to take a back seat to other South Dakota communities when it comes to recreation offerings and venues.
There’s something for everyone, whether it’s arts and crafts, softball, tennis, gymnastics or volleyball. Adults can now play kick ball, or try their skills at bean bag games.
“There’s a lot of activities that people can get involved with,” Langbehn said.