Tom Wilkerson might have been a dentist. He studied pre-dentistry at Southwest Missouri State University before deciding to follow in his father's footsteps and enter the field of recreation.
"Obviously, it (dentistry) is a good profession, but I just couldn't see myself tied down. So, I changed in the middle of the stream," said the assistant director of the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department.
That's one decision he doesn't regret.
His colleagues seem to agree that Wilkerson chose the right career path. The Kansas Recreation and Park Assn. presented Wilkerson its Distinguished Professional Award and inducted him as the organization's president at the annual conference in February.
Wilkerson spent about nine years as director of recreation services at Kansas University, where he managed Robinson Center and other recreation facilities on campus. Before coming to KU, he worked for the Missouri Council for Outdoor Recreation in Jefferson City and served as a recreation specialist with the U.S. Air Force for four years.
"I had been at every level of government except local, city government," Wilkerson said. "I never had that hands-on experience with providing services, and I really wanted it."
WILKERSON joined the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department as superintendent of recreation services in 1984 and was named assistant director when the department reorganized in July 1989. He handles budgeting and accounting for the department, as well as helping the various superintendents implement new programs.
During an interview, Wilkerson had a hard time pinpointing what he likes best about his job.
"Smiles," he said finally. "Seeing people smile. Seeing people enjoy what we provide for them, be it a stroll through the park or participation in organized sports or children's activities. That provides you with a great sense of satisfaction."
Wilkerson probably enjoys children's activities most. He gets a big kick out of watching a baby learn how to swim or seeing a young child practice gymnastics. Whenever he can find a spare moment, he likes to observe the classes.
"Any time a person can get up and go to work and not hesitate about going, that person has to enjoy what they're doing," Wilkerson said. "I've never not wanted to come to work."
HIS WIDESPREAD involvement in the community keeps Wilkerson busy long after the work day ends. He works with many local organizations and civic groups, including the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, Lawrence Kiwanis Club, the American Heart Assn., United Way of Douglas County and Kansas Special Olympics. He's also a member of the 1990 class of Leadership Lawrence, sponsored by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce, and operates the computer scoreboard at KU basketball and football games.
"I enjoy being active. It's very positive for (my family) that we feel a commitment, because the community has been committed to us," he said.
Wilkerson, his wife, Vicki, and their two daughters have developed strong ties with Lawrence and he laughingly said he'll stay in the city "no longer than the rest of my life."