Community Gem: Local woman dedicates decades to volunteering at Centerville-Washington Park District

Judith Keegans is a fixture at the Centerville-Washington Park District, whether she’s leading a special nature-focused program for young children or guiding adults through the park’s trails.

Miss Judith, as she’s known to many young Centerville children, started volunteering at the park district in the early 1990s and has given thousands upon thousands of hours developing programs, leading hikes and hosting events, Community Engagement Coordinator Ginger Clark said.

“There are just so many programs she leads for us, she is here just about every single day,” said Clark, who nominated her to be a Dayton Daily News Community Gem.

Keegans said she has always had a passion for nature and when she learned years ago that the park district was seeking volunteers, she decided to apply. It’s been the people she’s met and tutored along the way that has made her time at the park district memorable, she said.

Through her volunteerism, she’s shared the outdoors with people of all ages. She, with the help of her husband Bill Keegans and other volunteers, produced an award winning child’s Halloween program. She also headed a program that taught children about cultures in other countries.

“She just loves her community so much and wants to see it be the best community that it can be,” Clark said. “She loves children, she wants to build a love of nature and being outdoors. She thinks it’s so important now as children are getting attached to screens.”

Centerville-Washington Park District has 51 parks in its system ranging from neighborhood pocket parks to large nature parks. It has miles and miles of hiking trails. Keegans is a role model, Clark said, who’s had a big impact on both the park district and the community at large.

The park district is the gem of the community, Keegans said. People help each other there, she said, and noted that she has a special relationship with the operations crew who are very busy but willing to help her whenever she asks.

“The guys all treat me so well. Even though I am just volunteering, they say ‘If you ask for anything, you got it.’ And that makes me feel good, ” Keegans said. “I respect what they do.”

Keegans, after volunteering for more than two decades, worked for the district for three years before retiring a few years ago. She said her coworkers hosted a retirement party and then the next day she was right back to work as a volunteer.

“I think the park district appreciates me. I am a people person and I would do anything to help people,” Keegans said. “But normally, I don’t want people to know. I would rather something good happen and quietly leave so that they have no idea who it is.”

She said she hopes to continue to volunteer as long as she possibly can. She will be leading nature walks throughout the summer and has already created the plans for a children’s program in 2023.

“Nothing is better than the hundreds of hugs I get every year from little kids, teenagers and adults I’ve had over the years,” Keegans said. “It is so wonderful that these people I’ve worked with still want to have a hug.”

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