For two generations of Webster Citians, Fuller Hall won’t be quite the same after Wednesday, which is Larry Flaws’ last day as Recreation and Public Grounds Director.
Retiring after 45 years, Flaws, and wife, Leslie, are moving to Carlisle to be closer to both their families.
Not quite ready for the rocking chair, Flaws, 61, has taken a new job as maintenance coordinator with the State of Iowa, supervising staff who clean the statehouse and State Law Library in Des Moines.
Flaws recalls his first visit to Fuller Hall in 1969, at age 8.
“I signed up for Pee Wee and Tiny Tim baseball, basketball and roller skating. I met old friends there; I made new friends there. That happened every day at Fuller Hall, and still does.”
Even then, Flaws was known to Fuller Hall staff, which played a role in Flaws’ getting his first job – scorekeeper for slow pitch softball — in 1977, while still in high school.
“My brother Jim had that job. In fact, all my brothers worked in the recreation department. My Uncle Steve was pool manager in the late 1960s.”
So, says Flaws, “it seemed very natural when Tom Osboe hired me. There was no interview. I knew him; he knew me. That was enough.”
Team sports have always been at the heart of public recreation in Webster City, but the popularity of slow-pitch softball has really never been surpassed.
“Slow pitch was the game in the ’70s. We played four games a night — with start times at six, seven, eight, and nine o’clock — four nights a week at Nokomis Park. Mondays, the eight church league teams played; Tuesdays and Thursdays were devoted to men’s leagues (24 teams), and Wednesdays to women’s leagues (8 teams). With each team having at least a dozen players, nearly 500 people signed up for slow pitch softball in those years. They brought picnic baskets for supper, kids, parents and grandparents filled the stands, and games were competitive.
“It was a highlight for so many families during those summers,” remembers Flaws.
Flaws graduated from Webster City High School in 1980 with two men who, alongside him, would form the public face of Fuller Hall for the next 40 years: Mark Glascock and the late Kent Harfst.
In fall of 1980, Glascock and Harfst were hired as part-time flag football coaches. They also worked nights and weekends as supervisors on the desk at Fuller Hall.
Glascock recalls, “pay was low, but hours unlimited. We could work as much as we wanted, and we both wanted those hours!”
Flaws’ first full-time job with the city came in 1983. Officially responsible for maintenance at Fuller Hall, he also did seasonal, outside work to round out 40 hours a week.
“I mowed grass and trimmed trees in the parks, painted bridges, and even painted the depot one summer. When the ‘city beautification’ program began, I pulled weeds in vacant lots.”
In 1988, Flaws qualified as a lifeguard, and assumed responsibility for maintaining the indoor pool at Fuller Hall.
“We were closed Sundays then, so that was the day I cleaned the building and maintained the pool.”
At this time he was also assigned responsibility for organizing and managing aquatic sports at both indoor and outdoor pools, a job he’s done ever since.
Flaws estimates he’s trained more than 1,200 lifeguards in the last 30 years.
“Our summer lifeguard jobs are held by high school students. For most, it’s their first job, so we stress good workplace habits: getting to work on time, showing courtesy to the public, taking responsibility for rules enforcement, and serving as a role model for younger kids. We’ve saved quite a few swimmers too. There’ve been two drownings in Webster City, in 1933 and 1967, but none on my watch. I’m very proud of that.”
Saving lives can’t be minimized, but Flaws showed obvious pride when says, “Kent Harfst and I gave hundreds of character references for those kids over the years, helping them find employment after school. We must have done OK; one was even hired by the FBI.”
In 1992, Flaws was promoted to recreation technician, with responsibility for all public recreation programs. That job is ably held today by Glascock. On duty afternoons and evenings, “Glassy” is as much responsible for Fuller Hall’s success as Harfst and Flaws.
In 1996, Flaws became assistant director and, in 2019, after Harfst died, department director. Looking back over the years, he says, “Fitness changed in the 1980s, as more and more adults and seniors began regular exercise programs. Before that, Fuller Hall was largely a place for youth.”
An important function of Fuller Hall is as a third place for students, bridging the hours between the end of the school day, and when parents get off work.
“Being across the street from the middle school, we still have 75 to 100 kids here every weekday afternoon. Parents know it’s a safe place with rules and adult supervision,” Flaws says.
How, then, to take the measure of a man who came to work at six every morning?
Whose job description said nothing about building the character of young people or helping them find employment, but did it anyway?
Who never had a down day, always believing he had the best gig in town?
His boss, City Manager Daniel Ortiz-Hernandez, is full of praise for Flaws.
“Larry is a unicorn, a public servant who committed his professional and personal life to serving people in our community. We appreciated his knowledge and leadership, especially these last few years, and wish him well.”
View this article as it originally appeared in the Daily Freeman-Journal.
Last modified: January 16, 2023