By Nicole Matheson
Chances are, those from Lake Havasu City have been touched by many individuals who remain relatively unknown to them yet, the thread of unrecognized influence runs extensively through the fabric of daily existence.
Perhaps it is a child who has found comfort in belonging to something safe and fruitful outside their homes? Is it a parent who is grateful for the resources offered as their children find inspiring beneficial after school programs? Is it an adult, teen or visitor who enjoys the recreational avenues offered in our community? If so, it is time to meet Donna Best-Carlton.
Soon Lake Havasu City Parks and Recreation will celebrate the retirement of Best-Carlton, bringing about a deep flood of appreciation, gratitude and memories. It all begins with a story 51 years ago.
The slow moving water of the Colorado River and the early vision of Robert McCulloch beckoned early arrivals to the valley floor.
“I moved from Idaho to Lake Havasu on Aug. 30, 1969 as Donna Tatham and with my father, Pastor Richard and Grace Tatham and my five sisters, Pat, Pam, Diane, Debbie and Brenee.” With a population of 1,500 people, Havasu was little more than a township at the time.
“My sisters and I were the epitome of ‘Preachers Kids’, (PK’s) except my sister Pam, she was and still is the saint in our family. We used to drive our sweet, patient and kind father to his wits end by telling him there were three things to do in Lake Havasu, ski the river, see the bridge and meet the Tatham sisters, all in good fun!”
In adulthood, her legacy, which began as a volunteer, would come to influence countless lives whether they recognize it or not. A little more than 30 years ago, the Kiwanis Club offered the program Every Child A Swimmer and Best-Carlton volunteered her time to help teach the young energetic students the skill. Soon the program would grow under city direction as it was adopted under their new department.
“The program was moved under the newly implemented Lake Havasu City Parks and Recreation Department and I volunteered my services for 20 hours a week to assist wherever I was needed, mostly answering the office phones, greeting walk-ins and following Dick Samp around to set up for his presentations that educated the public about the need for a safe community pool, community parks, fields and recreation programs.”
The journey in Parks and Recreation for Best-Carlton began as a volunteer for two months before she moved into a part-time position for a year and a half. It wasn’t long until the position progressed into full-time. For a total of 31.7 years she has worked with Havasu Parks and Recreation to assist in developing and facilitating programs to enhance life for residents. “When the Parks and Recreation Department was created by Council the budget allowed for the Director, Dick Samp and his Administrative Assistant, Judy Hendricksen. Both of these important people were my mentors, teachers, correction officers and guidance counselors at Parks and Recreation, irreplaceable in my life,” Best-Carlton said.
A Successful Career
The positions she has held over the years has stretched across the department from recreation volunteer, lifeguard to water safety instructor. Early as the water safety instructor, Best-Carlton said she “…operated a leased pool and oversaw youth swim lessons, we would bus our local children out to Valley Manor Mobile Home Park in Desert Hills Monday through Fridays and teach the American Red Cross Swim Program.”
Soon, Best-Carlton transitioned to Recreation Leader which entailed working the first after school “Drop-in” program at Smoketree Elementary.
Today, Best-Carlton is the Recreation Supervisor, which she shares, oversees, “all of the city’s after school programs, developed Summer Camps, Community Special Events, Youth and Adult Programs and raised donations from every club, organization and citizen that would listen to our cause, (the community has always been generous).”
Changing Needs Of The Community
Changes have accompanied her tenure with the department as the city and society have grown over the years. “We have changed with the needs of our community and under the direction of our council and upper management. A beautiful aquatic/recreation center was built and provided programs for all ages in a safe environment. Local community parks with all the amenities were designed and built. Rotary Community Park was the first park to be designed and built under the direction of Dick Samp. Dick mentored me to help build the first Skate Park and the first handicap -accessible playground. Rotary Park has multiple amenities and has won both state and national awards as, “Best Community Park.” Site Six was re-developed with public restrooms, fish cleaning station, boat slips, fishing docks and extended parking. The old State Beach was redesigned and is now called London Bridge Beach, offering one of three dog parks that were built, outdoor amphitheater, playground equipment, basketball and volleyball courts, picnic areas, walkways, lighting, grass, trees and restrooms,” said Best-Carlton who has also been the creator for some well-known activities such as Delbert Days, Fall Fun Fair and Teen Break.
What will she miss most about working for Parks and Recreation? “My coworkers and my customers, they are family to me! I will miss interacting with our community’s children and being available for them as a little person that needs positive encouragement. We all need that!”
Words Of Thanks
While Carlton-Best will miss many things, it is she that will be missed by a greater measure far beyond the gift of her time she has given. Her indelible mark left upon the lives of Lake Havasu City floats above those who would like to thank her.
“Working with Donna over the past 30 years has been an adventure and created so many memories. Her passion for Parks and Recreation and how it impacts our community will always be remembered. She has cared for and touched the lives of so many. I am honored to have worked with her over the years. I wish her nothing but the best in retirement.” – Cheri Kowalski
“She is one of the best bosses I have ever had! She totally had me doing things out of my comfort zone. She always gave everyone a chance and never played favorites. The not so fun was when she would eat garlic by the cloves and we worked in that small cubby together. The smell was awful. She is a special lady that I will always adore and I value our friendship.” – Jenny Slettebo
“Donna showed me that you could work from the bottom and make to the top. She showed me to have compassion for everyone and that everyone needs help at some point in life. The woman is amazeballs, plus she was a riot to party with! ” – Dawn Lowery
“Donna was great to work for. She has done so much for the community and she will be missed around the Parks and Recreation Department.” – Matt Sepulveda
“With Donna it was always about the kids! Many fond memories of almost 20 years we spent together. I think my favorite was the night of the first talent show we did under the London Bridge. We never realized it would be such a big hit. She was and will be one of a kind.” – Judy Henricksen
“From Teen Break to Adventure Camp, to bed races down McCulloch Blvd., Donna is a dreamer. We are forever grateful for her contributions to Parks and Recreation and to Lake Havasu City.” – Swan Cooke
In a humility that shines forth in the community, touching the lives of all to be involved in her sphere, Best-Carlton expresses, “I was given the opportunity and the trust to be a part of so many life’s in our community, I only hope I did not let you down, and If I did, please forgive me, forgiveness is the gateway to all happiness. I love this community, our ‘oasis in the desert,’ and I will see you on the other side of RETIREMENT!”