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Director of Campus Rec: More Than Opening the Door

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
May 5, 2010

Denny Byrne, director of Campus Recreation

Denny Byrne has three or four meetings a day. He’s on a number of committees. And yet one of the things said most often about the director of Campus Recreation is that he is always accessible, especially to students.

And that, Byrne says, is intentional.

“We’re a service. For the students. If we’re not accessible, what the heck are we doing here?” Byrne says.

He uses “we” most of the time even when he’s talking about himself. And the availability people speak of in reference to Byrne has nothing to do with the 18 hours a day, 359 days that the Hamel Recreation Center is open. It has everything to do with the man who is working his passion.

“I meet with a lot of students looking for work; looking to go to school here; athletes looking for information on the rec management major,” Byrne says. “I do what I can to get them what they need.”

He also teaches a facility and design class, where students learn the ins and outs of the everyday business of running a place like the Whittemore Center—maintenance, operations, budget, development and programs, all aspects of Byrne’s job.

 “It’s a bit more complicated than just opening the door,” Byrne says. “You really have to be on top of your game facility-wise.”

As director of Campus Recreation, Byrne oversees operations at the Whittmore Center, Hamel Rec, the swimming pools and Mendum’s Pond, which have their own multiple programs. The cross-section of programs affect lot of people, Byrne notes, and therefore demand a lot of resources.

And that points to another of his responsibilities: fundraising.

“It’s all part of the job,” he says.

It’s part of a job he has been doing at UNH for 11 years. He started in the field after a stint in the Navy, where he had no idea “I could do what I do now as a job.” When he got out of the service, he got married, had kids and then went to college.

Byrne has worked at seven colleges and universities. He was an assistant director of campus recreation at his first job and has been a director ever since.

“I have been very fortunate. There wasn’t a glut of professional folk doing what I did when I started,” Byrne says. He has worked at big schools and small schools; schools with 5,000 students and 45,000 students. “One of the advantages of being at seven schools is I’ve seen it done almost every way,” he says.

Yet he is quick to say that doesn’t mean he knows everything.

“One of the messages I try to get across to the staff is that there’s no one here who has every answer,” Byrne says.

His underlying philosophy is to hire people who “challenge the hell out of me” and then he wants them to do the same with the people they hire.

Ten years ago, Byrne created a graduate assistant position as a way to connect to academics and to bring in new people into the department.

“People tend to come to work here and stay a long time,” he says. “This was a way to get kids in here to work and provide valuable input. They bring skills with them that we might not have. They challenge us—as they should.”

“The kids from here are getting great jobs all over the country. That’s more than gratifying. It’s kind of cool.”

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