I was thrilled when I finally made the connection between the young man I interviewed many times more than 30 years ago at the Sam Bell Maxey House and the Texas State Parks director who sat across the table from me last week at Love Civic Center.
Along with an assistant, Texas State Parks Director Rodney Franklin came to Paris with good news for supporters of the Northeast Texas Trail. After more than a decade spent converting an abandoned railroad bed into a 130-mile long recreational trail from Farmersville to New Boston, supporters learned that Texas Parks and Wildlife Department plans to study the possibility of turning the trail into a state park, a goal of supporters from the start.
I was surprised when this state official knew who I was until he reminded me of his connection with the Maxey House, where he first worked as a seasonal employee during the summers while he was in high school at North Lamar. He returned as site director in the early 1990s after he graduated from Texas A&M University.
“What an accomplishment,” I said out loud, as I thought to myself what a statement he makes for Lamar County — from part-time employee as a teenager to director of the entire state parks system.
“I’ve been fortunate,” Franklin said modestly. “I never dreamed I would turn a summer job into a 30-year career doing something I love.”
After filling almost every leadership role in the parks division of the agency, Franklin took over the reins as director in 2017. He oversees a workforce of roughly 1,350 employees who manage more than 630,000 acres that comprise the state parks system.
During his tenure at TPWD, he has led teams at state parks such as Lake Bob Sandlin and Cooper Lake, served as regional state parks director for north, north-central and Panhandle state parks and then served as the division’s deputy director before being named director.
As a young boy, Franklin moved to Powderly with his parents, Essie and Jerlean Franklin, when his father went to work for Uarco. While at North Lamar, Franklin said one of his favorite teachers, Katie Bryant, prompted his interest in the Maxey House, where her husband served as superintendent.
“She said she thought I would be good at giving tours and helping for the summer,” Franklin said about a job he grew to love because of its importance in preserving history and providing recreational activities for families. “I especially have fond memories there of decorating the house in the traditional style for Christmas.”
Although Franklin had plans to become a lawyer, he said he could not resist an offer in 1991 to come back as superintendent of the Maxey House after his graduation from A&M University. He worked there until 1996 when he began to move up the agency ladder.
Franklin credits his job success to giving 100% at work, having respect for his peers and respect for the importance of the work.
“The special places of Texas exist because many people have dedicated themselves to ensure they survive the test of time for the benefit of future generations,” Franklin said. “That is why the work is important.”
Franklin’s advice to a new generation just beginning to take on work responsibilities is “do the best at what they are doing in their current role. It doesn’t matter if that role is a seasonal worker at the Maxey House or director of Texas State Parks.”
Good advice, I believe, from someone who knows first hand.