By DAVID BORAKS
When Leslie Willis came to Davidson for a visit a few months ago, she saw “people active” – walking, running and biking around town. That told her that there’s a “good foundation here” for building community health and wellness.
Ms. Willis, 35, is the former campus recreation director at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, Mo. She started work June 16 as Davidson Parks & Recreation’s first health and wellness supervisor. She said this week she’s excited about her new role developing and managing health-related courses, programs and events.
“I see this as a very active community to begin with,” Ms. Willis said in an interview. “I see the opportunity to create a little more structured activities.”
Davidson has long had a recreation department, but it has been evolving quickly over the past year, driven by both a town staff restructuring and a new set of goals adopted by the Davidson Town Board that puts a new emphasis on community fitness and health.
The May 2010 restructuring cut back the staff at Parks & Rec. The town hired a new parks and rec manager, Kathryn Spatz, and began refocusing its programs. Ms. Spatz’s early tasks included recruiting for the new wellness position. Ms. Willis, she said, “brings a unique blend of skills and experiences that will allow us to significantly broaden wellness programs and activities for all Davidson residents.”
In Joplin, Ms. Willis oversaw creation and completion of a 71,000-square-foot student recreation center. She also managed the university’s fitness, wellness and aquatics programs.
A former Missouri Southern volleyball coach, she received a bachelor of science in kinesiology in 1998 from Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas, and a master of science in exercise science in 2000 from Bemidji State University in Bemidji, Minn.
Ms. Willis will be paid $41,000 annually. She brings a broad view of community health to the job.
“I think history and research have shown that overall wellness of a person enhances their life and prolongs their life,” she said. Focusing on fitness and wellness is especially important with the growing prevalence of obesity, she added.
She said Davidson Parks & Rec hopes to work closely with local businesses, property owners associations, schools and other groups and organizations. She also would like to pump new life into existing programs, including the Walking Wednesdays program that has gotten schoolkids walking to school one day a month in recent years.
Wellness is not just about working out, Ms. Willis said.
“People think fitness and wellness is, ‘I’ve gotta go workout and watch my diet.’ But your overall wellness has to do with not only activity and food, but also spiritual and social factors,” she said.
Ms. Willis is married to Chris Willis, who was appointed volleyball coach at Davidson College last February