YORK, Maine — Robin Cogger was considering a career as a teacher when she accepted a summer job at the York Parks and Recreation.
She never thought she would stay or one day end up running the department.
The love of bringing people together, however, took hold of Cogger early on. Now, after more than 30 years with the department and five at the helm, Cogger is retiring.
“I think it’s probably a little earlier than expected, but that’s okay,” said Cogger, 53, whose last day will be October 14. During her tenure, she helped grow the department by organizing long-running events like York Days while introducing new ones like the Nubble Lighthouse Polar Express Ride.
“I’ve had the opportunity to build some pretty incredible relationships over 30 years,” Cogger said. “It’s the people I have these relationships with that I will miss the most.”
A new appreciation for life outside of work
Cogger said her family developed a new appreciation for life when her husband, Scott, a longtime police officer and DARE officer in York, discovered he had thymus cancer this year. He underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy and has since learned from doctors that the cancer has been cleared. Cogger took two months off to spend time with her husband this summer, and now she’s looking forward to spending even more time together.
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“We developed a new appreciation for the gift of time,” Cogger said. Being a little younger than her husband, who is 61, she always expected to retire a little earlier than most. Now she said they were going to focus on the things they hadn’t done yet in life. Cogger doesn’t like the cold, so she said they could “try their hand at birding in the snow” for the winter in the future.
Cogger is also looking forward to having holidays, nights and weekends. Usually she organizes the road race on the 4th of July when other people are on vacation.
“I think that 4th of July was one of the first 4ths of July that I haven’t worked in in over 30 years,” Cogger said.
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The former recreation director was an incredible mentor
Cogger grew up in York and went to Plymouth State University for education.
She took a job at York Parks and Rec Junior Adventure Camp because she thought it would give her experience with children.
She admits that at first she was reluctant to apply. Her former basketball coach Mike Sullivan was the recreation director and at school she found him demanding.
“I couldn’t take it,” Cogger said. “I had to work up the courage to come and apply for the job.”
Their relationship was very different after she graduated.
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Cogger said she loved working for the department and Sullivan took her in, letting her work part-time when she started having children and bringing her back to full-time around 2010. Around this time, she developed a passion for the events that brought the community together. She became an assistant director in 2014, then a director five years ago when Sullivan retired.
Cogger said it was Sullivan who gave him the opportunity and the confidence to succeed.
“He’s been an incredible mentor to me,” Cogger said. “I think he saw something in me that I hadn’t seen in me for a very long time.”
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Gather the community
Part of Cogger’s accomplishments has been expanding the department’s offerings to the public for events. When she visited the Polar Express at North Conway, a ride that replicates the story of the book and film of the same name, she decided York could have its own Polar Express and introduced it to the department. Instead of trains, they used the local streetcar company and partnered with the owners of Woody’s Pizza who then owned a cafe in York Beach.
The children got their hot chocolate cookies at the cafe before boarding their journey to the ‘North Pole’, meeting at Nubble Lighthouse to listen to the ‘Polar Express’ book reading. The Holiday Ride still takes place every year, this year scheduled for December 1 and 2.
Cogger said she enjoys promoting past traditions like York Days. She said certain events clearly attract a lot of tourists, such as the illumination of the Nubble in December. Others like the festival of lights are a particular attraction for the inhabitants.
“You walk up the decorated route and recognize almost every face in the crowd,” Cogger said.
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30 years with Parks and Rec
Cogger said she did not know who her successor would be. One task she hopes to accomplish in the future is the introduction of a new community center, as the department depends on school spaces for much of its programming. This has made it difficult for the department to do much during the coronavirus pandemic, she said, because schools have been closed for a long time.
“We’ve talked about a community center in all the 30 years I’ve worked here,” Cogger said. “I can’t take credit for building a community center, but I hope to enjoy it one day.”
On the wall inside the Cogger Lounge is an old black sign that used to be in front of the recreation center office at 200 U.S. Route 1. Cogger brought it home when Sullivan replaced the old signs with new ones . Now, she said the sign will remind her of all the good times she had at Parks and Rec and the friendships she formed.
“It will just make me proud. It might make me a little bit sad,” Cogger said.