It’s appropriate that the individual overseeing recreational programs for the city of Morristown, via its parks and recreation department, likes to spend time outdoors.
Although she claims to have slowed down a bit recently, Frankie Cox, remains very physically active, with hobbies that include kayaking, hiking and mountain biking.
“I have always been active,” Cox said. “I used to play team sports in addition to the outdoor activities, but once my work schedule became busier, the outdoor recreation became easier from a time investment standpoint.”
Kayaking, for one, can be accomplished with a group or solo and is very relaxing.
“It can be a workout, but I prefer slow rivers and lakes” Cox said. “You just push off the shore and relax while enjoying nature.”
She normally takes a number of photos while in the kayak, with one exception.
“On an early morning float, I observed an Eagle diving for fish, I watched in awe with my camera in my lap as it flew about 15 feet over my head, which is very close for an Eagle. I’ve gotten some great pictures of blue herons and cranes, but missed getting the Eagle” she said.
During the height of Covid-19, while people were advised to maintain six feet of distance from one another and team sports events were cancelled, kayaking, a naturally distanced group activity, grew in popularity. Favorite trips for Cox and friends were sunset/moonrise trips out on Cherokee Lake.
“We’d go out and watch the sunset,” Cox said. “One night we actually saw a comet.”
Cox is Morristown native; she graduated from West High and earned a degree in physical and health education, with a minor in recreation, from East Tennessee State University.
“I wanted to be a teacher, so I pursued a degree in education. By my senior year, I heard more and more about the recreation field. So, I picked up a recreation minor instead of my certification to teach,” she said.
“I realized, the recreation field offered more flexibility in content and format in working with children and adults.”
“I grew up camping, hiking and being outdoors. When I realized there was actually a field that you could go into, I was interested. I used to joke and tell people that I could play for a living, but that only lasted when I was on the program side of it,” Cox said.
Her first job out of ETSU was at the Kingsport nonprofit organization, Rascals Teen Center, where youth had the opportunity to socialize in a drug and alcohol-free environment and were encouraged to develop positive attitudes about themselves and the community.
“Basically, it was a place where kids could come, watch movies and play games in the arcade with their friends. They also had one of the nicest dance floors in the tri-cities,” Cox said.
After moving on to work for Girls Incorporated of Hamblen County as the Senior Program Specialist working with teens, she was then offered a position with Kingsport for Parks and Recreation Department. In her role there, she was able to continue to have an impact on youth while sharing her enthusiasm for recreation with children and senior citizens. Ten years later, she accepted the role of executive director at Girls Inc. focusing on the administrative side of informal education and recreation.
She spent 13 years there, honing her management, program development and community relationships skills, before accepting the role of recreation superintendent at Morristown Parks and Recreation.
WINK had to ask.
No, Cox is not a ‘top fan’ of the television series, in fact she has not watched many of the Parks and Rec episodes starring Amy Pohler as the indomitable optimist, Leslie Snopes. Family members, however, made note of the irony.
“My nephews started calling me ‘Leslie’ when I took the job,” Cox said.
Similar to one of the themes of the show, however, is the fact that a variety of personalities create a team in the Morristown Parks and Rec office.
The official job description of recreation superintendent includes providing oversight and guidance to the athletic and special event division within the department. With that, Cox said, the big role was building relationships in the community, developing partnership and finding resources to offer different types of programming.
She also continued to serve as a volunteer with Girls Inc. and United Way of Hamblen County. She has served as Girls Inc. Board Chair and is currently serving as secretary for the United Way board. She also serves as chair of the Hamblen County Health Council where she is very active in the Moving Morristown/Healthy Hamblen Initiative.
“That particular group has been great to work with to offer more opportunities and resources for wellness programs to the community,” she said.
In May, Cox took on more responsibilities when she was asked to serve as interim Parks and Recreation Director upon the retirement of Craig Price.
“As recreation superintendent, I was able to learn from director Price the established practices of the department as a whole,” Cox said “As interim director, I’ve been more involved with the park maintenance division and while continuing in my role of oversight with regard to programming and athletics. The opening of our new inclusive park, Jolley Park, has been a big focus.”
One of the top priorities for Cox is recognizing the efforts of a large group of volunteers.
“There’s no way that we can run this program without them. The amount of time and the passion they put into coaching is incredible. They dedicate their time and energy beginning with tryouts and continuing throughout the season with practices and games. Most follow up hosting an end-of-season party or an awards banquet. Some coaches, like Billy Ray Martin, have been in for 30-50 years. A few of them, like John Gullion, Citizen Tribune managing editor, have not only coached in tee ball and softball, but basketball as well. Most of the coaches are parents, but not all. We have grandparents, uncles, aunts, and other individuals who just enjoy coaching.
There have been a few surprises over the years, including the heightened interest in Pickleball, which is played at the Talley Ward Recreation Center.
“Pickleball has grown so much that we average 30 participants daily,” Cox said. The local group, the Hamblen County Chapter of USA Pickleball, has held two clinics recently and have had great turnouts. They are looking for more courts to play on,” Cox said.
Concerts at Fulton-Hill Park began in June and will be held on the fourth Friday of every month through September.
“The views are awesome; you don’t have a lot of city sounds,” Cox said. “People can sit in the shade under the trees. There will be food trucks with refreshing choices. The music begins at 6 p.m. and lasts about two hours.”
In addition, Starlight Cinema will be held on the third Friday of each month at Fred Miller Park. Food Trucks and refreshments will be on hand with the movie beginning at dusk. In athletics, All Stars games continue as Little League is finishing up while adults are ending their softball and grass volleyball season and beginning Adult Co-ed Kickball.
Despite the increased work schedule, Cox finds time to sustain body and mind health; she went camping the weekend before this interview.
Family is important; she enjoys time with her family and spoiling her nieces and nephews. As the second oldest among four siblings, Cox has always appreciated the value of childhood lessons, especially those which strengthen that indomitability to prevail over challenges.
“I’m a middle child, with two younger brothers and one older sister,” she laughed, “That’s how you learn to survive.” Joking aside, she has a close family who supports each other in all they do and continues to enjoy the outdoors together as they did throughout her childhood.
“We are blessed to have parents who provided those experiences for us during childhood and taught us that recreation and wellness was an important part of life.”