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A “water child” finds her niche at the GBRC

Megan Hammeke’s first job after graduating from Fort Hays State University in 2010 was with the Great Bend Recreation Commission. She originally worked in the front office and aquatics programming, but in 2011 she moved to managing Aquatics/Enrichment following the death of longtime program coordinator Linda Marqueling.

Now in his 12th year at the ‘Rec’, Hammeke’s title is now Director of Aquatics, Enrichment and Marketing.

“The Rec world is different every day!” she said. “Overseeing year-round enrichment and fitness programs for our adaptable clients and 50+ age groups. This can be anything from cooking classes and adaptive dances to Tai Chi and water aerobics classes. Then March comes and my water position really takes over until the end of August. I certify most lifeguards in the immediate area and then get to oversee day-to-day operations for Wetlands Waterpark.

People often ask Hammeke how he manages 55 teenage employees (15-22 years old) every summer.

“They ask the question like it’s supposed to be awful — and I’m not saying there aren’t days they try — but I really love it. We have some great kids in our community and when given the opportunity, they step up to meet the demands of the job. I can be most of their first jobs, first experiences with the public, maintaining customer safety and teaching swimming skills,” she said.

“Interacting with the citizens of Great Bend in their downtime is one of the best parts of my job. We work hard to bring them events and programs that allow them to find connections within our community, get involved, and have fun and play!

Nowadays, their children also become part of the “recreational world”, helping in events such as Santa’s workshop. “That’s a fantastic perk of my job,” Hammeke said.

A “water child”

Megan Amerine was born in Hays but her family moved to Great Bend when she was 2 when her father went to work for the family business, Amerine Utilities Construction.

Megan and her husband Ryan have been together since they were 15 years old. They started dating when they attended Great Bend High School and continued dating through their college years at Fort Hays State University. They were married in the summer of 2009, between junior and senior years, and moved back to Great Bend after graduating in 2010.

Ryan’s degree was in criminal justice, but he graduated when the state of Kansas had a hiring freeze, so he landed a job at the Great Bend Police Department. Since then, Ryan has been licensed as a Master Electrician and works for his cousin Tim Hammeke’s company, Hammeke Electric.

Megan graduated from FHSU with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Human Performance. When the opportunity at the Rec presented itself, “it was just perfect,” she said.

“Fishing is definitely in my blood. My great-grandmother Nadine Amerine has taught swimming lessons in midtown in the past. Ms. Amerine was a Red Cross water safety instructor for 67 years. “We have just grown up as water babies, starting swimming lessons at a young age, making the GBHS swim team, working as a lifeguard in high school and managing the Club West pool in college, so being fortunate enough to have jobs that include my love of water is just icing on the cake.

Returning to Great Bend

“My husband and I both grew up in Great Bend and both of our families still call GB home,” she said. “So when my husband was offered a job fresh out of college to move back to our hometown, it seemed like just the right fit. We love our community here and are excited to raise our children in the city where we grew up. It takes a village, and we have it here between our families and a small group of friends. It’s always been great to be here.

The Hammekes have two children, 11-year-old Emma and 8-year-old Easton. When asked about her hobbies, Megan said, “well, right now she’s chasing kids.

“I’m currently at that stage in life where my kids’ hobbies are also my hobbies, but when we’re not driving kiddos from wrestling and swimming and dancing and their recreational sports, I’m an avid reader. Reading 100-150 books a year is not uncommon for me.

They also have a dock at Wilson Lake’s Marshall Cove and love camping and boating in the summer.

Ryan comes from a musical family and is in the local band Homebrew.

“I’m also a huge music fan and make it a point to go to some kind of live music concert every two months. Good music feeds my soul. It’s not often you find me without a playlist going,” she said.

Professional/community involvement

Hammeke has been a member of the Kansas Recreation & Park Association for the past 10 years and has served on the KRPA Aquatic Branch Board since 2017. She is also the board secretary for the Central Kansas Partnership.

In the evenings, she works as a volunteer coach for the Golden Belt Swim Club.

She previously served on the board of directors of various organizations, including the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce Board (2015-2017) and the Barton County Young Professionals Steering Committee (2015-2020), as as president of the BCYP in 2018. He served two terms as a chamber ambassador (2016-2022), taking office as president in 2022.

The family attends First Christian Church in Great Bend with Ryan playing in the worship band and the children engaging in all church programs.

Easter egg hunts

This week, Hammeke is at the KRPA annual conference in Overland Park. Conferences are often a source of new ideas and Hammeke talked about two, both involving the Easter egg hunt.

First up is the “Pawsome” Easter Egg Hunt for dogs, which made its debut at Veterans Memorial Park in 2021 and continues to grow in popularity.

“It started during COVID,” she said. Most indoor events and even some outdoor gatherings have been canceled to help people maintain social distancing. An Easter egg hunt with pets running around to find plastic eggs with pet treats and prizes was a hit.

“People love it,” she said. This year’s Pawsome Hunt will be at 1pm on Saturday 1st April at Vets Park.

The next addition to the GBRC Easter egg hunt is coming to Great Bend later that day. It will be a flashlight egg hunt at the Great Bend Sports Complex on April 1st.

Children between the ages of 0 and 12 are welcome to bring flashlights and participate in a night hunt with over 5,000 eggs. Children up to 2 years of age hunt first at sunset; then 3-8 year olds will go egg hunting on the ball fields while 9-12 year olds will face the biggest challenge, looking for camouflaged eggs.

“As you get older, it gets harder,” Hammeke said of the hunt. “I’m excited about this.”

A great working environment

Hammeke loves her job and the people she works with.

“I work with the best team. The Great Bend Rec staff are truly family and none of the many areas I cover would be successful without the help of the eight other full-time employees or the hundreds of part-time employees we have. I love hearing stories from the public when some of their greatest memories from a year were a Rec memory. Whether it’s a kid playing a new sport, someone reaching a new fitness goal, or a kid meeting the Grinch at Santa’s Workshop, these community connections are what we thrive on,” she said.

“We’re at every Great Bend festival,” he continued. “What if someone says there’s nothing they can do? In a sense you are choosing not to. You can make it whatever you want – a place for great memories.

Community Connections is a regular feature of the Great Bend Tribune, showcasing people who live in the Golden Belt. We encourage readers to submit names of people active in the community they would like to see featured in a future story. Send suggestions to [email protected] and explain their “community connections”.

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