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New recreation chief brimming with enthusiasm
Joey Chavez
Joey Chavez is loving his new work environment as the city of Ceres recreation manager. - photo by Jeff Benziger

It’s been a head-spinning year of change for city of Ceres staff and leadership. The city lost its city manager in Tom Westbrook, its city engineer in Daniel Padilla, its recreation manager in Matthew Lohr and is about to see the retirement of Public Works Director Jeremy Damas.

Joey Chavez, 52, hopes to bring about some stability and new energy in the Ceres Recreation Department now that he has replaced Lohr as the city’s recreation manager.

Chavez was hired Oct. 18.

“I love it here,” said Chavez, who has an office in the Ceres Community Center. “It’s a small community. I like how the organization is running. We’ve put on two big events already – the Trunk or Treat – I had no clue what was going on, we jumped into that, jumped into our Christmas festival. I would say just working with all the different departments everyone has been so very helpful. I can’t ask for anything better. It’s made for a smooth transition.”

The department recently also added Katie Lemburg as the new recreation supervisor in late August, which was a position that was frozen for budgetary reasons when Allegra Morelli left. The same post was occupied by Cambria Pollinger for 21 years, from 1998 to 2019.

Also new to the department is Tracy Ferguson who is replacing administrative coordinator Maya Narvaez who left to become a police dispatcher.

“We’ve had a lot of change in this department but it’s all been positive and we’re all just trying to get used to things, catch up to speed with things and bring back a lot of our programs back that’s been missing,” said Chavez. “We’re going to take baby steps; we’re not going to make change overnight.”

COVID interrupted the programs of most cities in California, said Chavez, and in Ceres mostly cancelled contract programs such as art classes for kids.

“We want to bring back our traditional basketball programs back, our baseball programs back, our Junior Giants, bring volleyball back, just bring back things as we go.”

Chavez is still pinching himself over the “beautiful” community center being his workplace, which sees a lot of rentals for weddings, anniversaries, private parties and tiny tot classes.

“I love it because you see all the kids’ faces coming in doing their classes and you have the seniors coming in doing their Zumba classes in the morning. Just seeing people coming in to the counter and working with the customers, letting them know that we’re back open. I think the community is starting to see that more. Just building a lot of our relationships back because it was probably a disconnect with COVID.”

Chavez said it will be incumbent upon him and his staff to continue with attempts to make the Community Center bring in enough revenue to cover its operational costs. Since its opening, the center has had an operational deficit. Chavez foresees changes to need to take place to increase the rentals of the facilities. One big boost was when the city allowed Big Valley Grace Church to use the facility on Sundays and some time on Monday mornings and Wednesday afternoons.

A native of Livingston, Chavez earned an Associates of Arts degree from Merced College in 1991 and attended San Jose State University on a full-ride baseball scholarship, winning numerous awards including National Player of the Week and Outstanding Pitcher and was inducted into the San Jose State Baseball Hall of Fame. He graduated in 1995, earning his bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Leisure Studies. 

In 1996 he returned to home in Merced County where he was an off campus football and baseball coach at Livingston High School for 24 seasons. His recreation career began in Patterson where he managed special events, senior programming and aquatics. He later Merced where he served as a recreation coordinator. While in Merced he was promoted to supervisor and director for two years. Chavez was the Chief Operations Officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Merced County from February to September this year.

He is a certified Aquatics Facility Operator, holds a credential in Administrator Youth Sports from the National Alliance for Youth Sports and also is CPR certified for professional rescue.

Chavez and his wife of nearly 30 years, Patricia, have three children: Joseph, 26, Emily, 23, and Grace, 20. He also recently became a grandfather.

When he’s not working Chavez enjoys spending time with his family, camping, fishing and barbecuing. He is also a big sports fan of the Giants, the 49ers and the Warriors.