John Garcia makes Warwick special

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:16

    WARWICK-Warwick is special because of people like John Garcia. Just ask anyone who has worked with him over his 30-year tenure with the Warwick Recreation Program. The spirit and enthusiasm he brought to the job was never ending. Garcia (pronounced Gar-sha) resigned his position last month. He said he just wants to spend more time with his two young sons, who are growing up faster than he thought. "I've been torn over the last few years," said Garcia. "My kids are getting older and they really want me to come to all of their games and activities. I can't be in three places at once." Garcia certainly has had an impact on a generation of kids in Warwick. He took a job with the rec program when he was a senior in high school. He worked it throughout college and was offered the job of director by then-mayor McGrath. When Nick Papaceno became mayor shortly after Garcia took the reins, he instructed Garcia to "make this program fly." And that's just what Garcia did. Back then, the rec program consisted of the Stanley-Deming park program and a small swimming program. He quickly added, track, football, tennis, but admits, he couldn't have done it without the support he got from Papaceno. "He asked me how much would I need to make the program fly and I told him $10,000," Garcia said. "He gave me $20,000 and said ‘do it right'." That was then. Now, his programs are attended by thousands of Warwick youngsters each year, throughout the year, not just in the summer. The programs are geared toward the smaller kids who are just learning the activities. "Most of the kids are relatively young, between 5 and 11 years old," he said. "That's why mothers love me around the world. They can trust us." He considers this the greatest compliment of all. "I hire the best kids for this program," he said of the 35 counselors he hires each year. "About 70 kids have come out of my rec program and are now teachers," he said, "many of them in local districts. I instill in them to give back to their community. That's what it is all about." Garcia, who has been a physical education teacher at the middle school here in Warwick for 26 years, said he has never gotten more compliments than he has on this program. "I've never had more positives said about anything else I'm associated with," he said. "It is a big honor when someone says ‘I trust you with my kids.' That is the best feeling." Mayor Michael Newhard read Garcia's resignation letter with much emotion. The two grew up together, playing Little League baseball together and hanging out with each other. There is a true admiration on each man's part. "I've loved working with Michael Newhard," said Garcia. "And I loved working with his father (late village trustee Robert Newhard). I've had a good relationship with all of the mayors I've worked with. I can't complain about any of them." He worked for five mayors over his long tenure, including Frank Lacalamita and Anthony Portelli. For the past few years he has worked with both Newhard and Michael Sweeton, the town's supervisor. He grew up with Sweeton as well. "I love working with the Mikes," he said. "It's been a joy. They have always supported what I want to do." "I'm really happy for him and really sad," said Sweeton, a long-time friend of Garcia. "I'm happy he is going to get to spend more time with his kids but I'm sad he is leaving the program. He's been the program for many years and it's been a tremendous program. He's got spirit. It's guys like him who make Warwick special." Newhard recalled that he and Garcia spent years playing Little League together, noting that Garcia was a real slugger, someone Newhard admired. And not a bad pitcher either. "My dad coached me and really worked with me to make me a better hitter," said Newhard. "John would be pitching, I'd be hitting, and Kurt Emmerich (the current school board president) would be the catcher. We all grew up together. "John has paid his dues to the community without fanfare because of his love for Warwick," Newhard continued. "It has been a gift to the community, 30 years of service. He built this program. It will be hard to replace him." Waiting in the wings is Ronnie Introini, who has worked with Garcia for many years. He has run the Stanley-Deming Park program for over a decade. "Ronnie is great. I had him as a student and a volunteer counselor," Garcia said. "He'll do a tremendous job with it." Now Garcia will spend a little extra time watching 10-year-old John and 8-year-old Brad growing up. He knows this time is precious-he has seen scores of other kids grow up--and he doesn't want to miss a thing. "I've had the best support anyone could ask for," Garcia said. "My wife, Gwen, has sacrificed for me. My parents have been awesome. I'm a lucky man. I get paid to work with the kids of Warwick. You can't get any better than that!"