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Crew keeps things ‘Moo’ving at the park

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By Stephen Lega

 With fresh dew still on the grass, Jerry Stumph circled Gorley Field on a John Deere bunker rake Friday morning. The engine quietly purred as he made circular laps around the all-dirt infield.

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"It's kind of enjoyable to be honest with you," Stumph said.

Stumph, 65, came out of retirement after more than 30 years of working in local factories to join the "Moo Crew" in 2008. The Moo Crew is the unofficial name of the City of Lebanon's park staff, which works under Park Director Matthew "Moo Moo" Mattingly. The staff is responsible for 110 acres of property, and their daily work is intended to help the public enjoy the city's facilities.

"The ball fields get mowed two to three times a week depending on the weather conditions. It's the same with the soccer fields," Stumph said.

That's in addition to mowing and trimming the rest of the grassy areas at the park, including Johnston Field at Centre Square. Stumph suggested that they get a sense of satisfaction from seeing people using the park.

"Believe it or not, at 7 o'clock this morning, they were down hitting balls on the lower fields," he said.

Stumph's work Friday morning was part of preparing the fields for a weekend tournament.

"It softens the ground up in case a ball hits it and reduces the risk of injury," he said.

While the daily tasks are affected by the weather, Stumph also remembers the effort needed after the 2009 ice storm. For 10 days after, park employees kept a generator running at Centre Square so it could serve as a shelter for people who were without electricity. 

"It took us about three weeks to pick up all the limbs and downed trees," Stumph recalled. "It took a while to get things back."

While Stumph was finishing the infield, Patrick "Cletus" Spalding was mowing the outfield.

Spalding, 26, has been part of the Moo Crew off and on for 10 years. He estimated that he spends 12 to 15 hours each week mowing. He noted that the park hosts several tournaments, and some staff members are always available during those weekends to help where needed.

He also said he has overheard multiple visitors say that Lebanon has one of the nicer parks they've been to.

"You take pride in that," Spalding said.

Mattingly started working as part of the city's park staff when he was in college. He returned about 10 years ago, originally as the assistant director. About six or seven years ago, the city divided the park staff into the aquatics department and the park activities department, and Mattingly become the head of park activities.

One thing he wanted to point out is that every member of his crew is a hard worker.

"I don't think people realize how many hours these boys put in," Mattingly said.

He said his crew has certain jobs they do every day, such as cleaning the restrooms and emptying trash cans. Depending on the season, they may be mowing, setting up for (and cleaning up after) receptions and other events, or doing maintenance on equipment.

Since much of their work takes place outdoors, rain can be a real problem, too.

"If we miss one day of mowing because of rain, it puts us that much behind just to catch up," Mattingly said.

At the same time, Mattingly sees the benefits that come from his position.

"You're outside all the time," Mattingly said. "It's like I tell people all the time, you get to watch kids grow up doing the team stuff. It blows my mind how gifted some of these kids are."

Ryan Peterson, 20, has been part of the Moo Crew for five years. Friday was his last day at the park for the summer before he returned to the University of Kentucky. While he was a student at Marion County High School, Peterson also played football under Mattingly.

"He's just an all-around good guy," Peterson said. "He pushes for the best of you, whether you're at work or on the field."

And Peterson also sees his work at the park as a way to support his hometown.

"I love the community of Marion County, and this job gives you a way to do a lot for the community," he said.

Mattingly also pointed out that the staff gets a lot of help. He said he appreciates the fact that the various leagues that use the park operate independently of his department, which allows them to devote more time to keeping the park looking nice.

He also pointed out the assistance they get from the community service workers from the Marion County Detention Center. One of those workers, Fonz Bowers, helped Peterson and Mattingly work on the youth soccer fields on Friday. After helping line a field, Bowers said he appreciates the opportunity he's received from Mattingly, and just like the paid members of the staff, he enjoys seeing people out and about using the park.

"People around here will say, 'We appreciate you doing this.' It makes you feel good," Bowers said.

Of course, working outdoors also means encounters with non-humans as well. Mattingly said he's seen foxes, groundhogs, possums, rabbits and turtles while he's been working. From time to time, they'll see a skunk as well.

"We don't go within 100 miles of that thing," Mattingly said.

He also vividly recalls another encounter he had while working on the disc golf course.

"A snake came out of the sandpit down there. I did the fastest U-turn you've ever seen in your life," Mattingly said.

Coincidentally, another member of the Moo Crew was mowing the disc golf course Friday. Joseph Lewis, 21, is a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College in Danville, where he is studying criminal justice. For the last two years, he has worked for the city. He recently had his own animal encounter with a snapping turtle that was crossing the soccer fields heading toward a pond behind the newer baseball field. Lewis wouldn't say what happened, but it was clear he had no intention of following the Turtleman's example.

In spite of that, he said someone who enjoys working outdoors couldn’t beat being part of the Moo Crew, adding that he enjoys the people he works with, too. 

That includes members of the public who are walking or jogging on the track, playing sports or just using the playground equipment.

"If I'm out here and I see somebody using the park, it makes me feel like I'm doing my job," Lewis said.