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A drive to succeed fueled longtime CBC Rec Director’s climb up the management ladder

By Craig Westcott/August 5, 2022

When Dave Tibbo retired last month after 36 years with the Town of Conception Bay South, he left behind a career load of memories, friendships and accomplishments, but also a case study for anyone needing a reminder about how important passion and a drive to succeed is to obtaining career success.

“It’s a dream job,” said Tibbo, describing his most recent position with the Town, that of Director of Recreation and Facilities, a job he held for some 21 years.

But Tibbo didn’t start out in management. He worked his way to the top after working for more than a year in the engineering and recreation departments as a labourer.

But it all began with a lucky break.

“In 1986 I got a call from the late Bob French (then a town councillor), a very good friend of the family, and he asked me if I wanted a bit of summer work down with the Town,” Tibbo said. “I went down figuring I was going to work on a ballfield or work in the soccer program. I ended up going in to work on the dump with Abe Dawe.”

The principal feature of the dump located off the Foxtrap Access Road in those days, aside from the smell of the garbage and the fumes from a nearby rendering plant, was a big steel teepee containing an incinerator. Cars and trucks would carefully back up onto a steel bridge to the lip of the teepee and then you would get out and heave your garbage down into the flames below.

Tibbo’s job was to check the cars coming in, divert them to the appropriate drop zone, or onto the deck of the incinerator.

It wasn’t the most pleasant place to be for a young fellow. And with Tibbo having just started university and doping well with his courses, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to stay at it. He had always envisioned a life ahead working as some sort of manager in recreation or sports.

“But I wouldn’t dare call Bob French and tell him I wasn’t going to take the jo,” said Tibbo. “Anyway I stuck it out.”

Tibbo, who had been a good student in high school, and was enjoying university, ran into a dilemna familiar to many people who have ever had to face the option of keeping a well-paying job or breaking off to continue school.

“I guess I kept working with the Town and working with the Town and lo and behold I got used to the money and there ended my university days, which I certainly regret in hindsight,” said Tibbo. “In this day and age, you certainly need to complete your education and get your degree. But I guess at 20 years old and making unionized money at the time, it seemed really good.”

Besides the money, Tibbo liked working for the Town, and he soon envisioned a career for himself, aiming for a role in management, hopefully in recreation.

But he had a few years to punch before he could there.

As a junior labourer, Tibbo was headquartered in the basement of the old Town Hall near Villanova, the building that now houses an RNC detachment. Tibbo did everything from cutting grass (by push mower as there were no sit on mowers then) to liming fields, screening topsoil, fertilizing the grounds, planting trees and flowers and everything else involved in keeping the Town’s growing list of recreational and other facilities maintained.

All the while, he kept up his education as best he could for someone who was holding a full-time job. Tibbo took business and continuing education courses at Memorial University, including the Centre for Management Development program, along with horticultural courses through the University of Guelph.

“I just had that ambition,” he said. “I was driven to be a recreation person and work in an office, and that’s what I was so focused on. Nothing else mattered to me, only my drive to sit in a chair in the recreation department.”

Not everyone shared Tibbo’s confidence that he would make it.

“I remember one time walking into a supervisor’s office, and I looked him in the face and I said, ‘One day, I’ll sit in those chairs.’ And they laughed at me and they said there’s no way it will ever happen. And while it kind of hit me hard and hurt my pride, it totally drove me even more and more to get to where I wanted to be… I think it helped me to keep going and kept me driven and helped me succeed, because I wouldn’t dare not succeed.”

When CBS hosted the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games for the first time in 1996, Tibbo signed on as a volunteer director helping to plan the sports.

Tibbo would go from grooming the sports fields as a unionized employee of the Town in the daytime, to meeting at night with other volunteers to make sure CBS was ready to host athletes from across the province.

“Little did I know that in 2016, 20 years later, I would be the director (of recreation) and the Town’s liaison (with the Games committee,” Tibbo said. “So it really went full circle.”

In 1997, after Tibbo had spent more than a decade as a unionized worker, the position of Facilities Manager came up. The job entailed overseeing the maintenance of the Town’s outside facilities, including the stadium in Kelligrews. It was a big job with a lot of responsibility, but Tibbo had an edge given that he had worked in every facility the Town owned.

“I applied for that job and got it, which was really the realization of my ambition of the day I decided I wasn’t returning to university,” Tibbo said.

Once he was a manager, Tibbo found that his experience as a labourer was a massive advantage. 

“I had started from the ground level up and worked my way up through and once I became a manager and started becoming responsible for those facilities, I had firsthand experience,” he said. “I also had the experience of being a worker and knowing how the workers should be treated and stuff like that. I found that an advantage, not only from the knowledge of knowing what had to be done, but also from having sat in the same position as a worker and knowing the workers’ wants and needs and giving them the proper tools to do their jobs was really important.”

Eventually the job included management of the swimming pool, better known as the Recreational Complex, as well as all other town facilities as they came onstream over the years, including the fire halls, the new Town Hall, and the new soccer complex in Topsail.

Taking over the job in 1997, a year after CBS had hosted the Newfoundland and Labrador Summer Games for the first time, Tibbo found himself with a raft of new infrastructure to look after, including tennis courts, a new baseball field, the ballfield in Seal Cove, and other facilities.

“That when I had to start thinking about the growth and developing the manpower to look after those facilities,” Tibbo said. “That was a big undertaking. 

By 2001, he had proven his chops as a manager, and when the position of Director of Recreation came open, Tibbo got it, keeping his duties as Facilities Manager.

As the recreation director of the largest town in the province, and one of the fastest growing, Tibbo found his responsibilities growing yearly. He said he was fortunate in that the councils of the day were always big supporters of recreation and senior managers answering to council always supported one another. The Town was also lucky to have such supportive MHAs and MPs, Tibbo added, who worked hard to obtain whatever funding might be available to help the Town meet its growing recreation needs. Then there were the managers and unionized workers in his own department, who made his job easier.

“People always say the field in Seal Cove looks wonderful, and the field in Topsail looks great, and the stadium is nice and clean. But it takes a crew of unionized staff and the manager at the facility to lead that unionized staff into getting that work done,” said Tibbo. So, I was very fortunate during my 24 years in management that I had a really supportive council at all times, a very supportive management team of directors around me, my own management team, of course, and then the people on the ground who I always looked up to and I always spoke highly of because I always felt I was one of them. That’s where I got my start, being one of them.”

Tibbo said there were other categories of people who made his position “a dream job,” including corporate sponsors for big events such as Tim Horton’s, Home Hardware and Sisters in Fitness, and especially the town’s many volunteers.

“Those are the people who make our town click, they support our events,” he explained. “Recreation is not all about recreation, it’s all about communities and other things besides sports. I look at the great trail systems that we have in our town and the great work of the board at Manuels River, the people with Chamberlains Park, who have taken that walkway and have made it into something; the KEEP (Kelligrews Ecological Enhancement Program) group, the Community Gardens group, they’re all driven by volunteers who are so passionate about what they do. And the Rotary, Lions Club and Kiwanis, the Kinsmen… Every cent that they bring in they give back to the community. They are such great supporters of our town. There are so many organizations that people just do not know (about). They deserve so many kudos for making the town grow because of their volunteerism, it’s unbelievable… And it’s really taken off the last number of years from when we hosted the Summer Games to when we hosted the World Curling. We had an excess number of volunteers. We never had to worry about not having enough volunteers. And that just tells what the true spirit of our community is – when you’ve got these big events that come together, the community comes together. The curling shows, for example, needed well over 200 volunteers and there was no trouble getting them.”

Among the many highlights of the past 21 years, one that stands out for Tibbo was the completion of the new CBS Arena, arguably the best arena of its size in the province. As someone who played and coached hockey most of his life, and supported his son Kyle from rink to rink through his progression from minor hockey to top tier hockey on the mainland, it’s no surprise the rink has a special place in Tibbo’s heart.

But he doesn’t take credit for it himself.

“The credit really has to go to a new arena committee that was set up,” Tibbo said.

The group included CBS residents Paul Connors, Andrea Canning Jeff Fagan, Tony Cronin and others.

Tibbo said they “kept pushing and pushing and pushing, in a very positive manner, the need for a new arena, and they were fantastic. They started it, they made it happen, they kept our feet to the floor right from the beginning and that committee was instrumental in bringing the new arena to the town.”

The Town was also fortunate, said Tibbo, in that at the time, there were three cabinet ministers in the provincial government whose districts were tied to CBS. Harbour Grace and Paradise also got funding for rinks at the same time. All three facilities are completely different from one another.

“There was a lot of work put into it,” Tibbo said. “We visited rink after rink after rink, myself and the CAO at the time, Keith Arns. We picked apart every rink that we saw. A lot of it was done in consultation with the arena committee, and consulting with the user groups… We hoped that the arena we brought to CBS would be the one that had pretty well everything that we would want. The areas that we saw lacking in some arenas, we tried to fix by putting them in our arena. For example, the walking track is behind the observation room, not in the front, so when people walk by, they don’t intrude on the people watching the ice. That was a collaboration with a lot of people.”

The other thing Tibbo and the others wanted, was an arena that could accommodate 1,600 or 1,700 people at an event and that was more than a hockey rink. That would enable the Town to take in revenue to keep the facility going. Since it opened, the CBS Arena has hosted everything from World Curling and ball hockey tournaments to provincial cheerleading competitions and concerts.

“Luckily enough, just after the arena was built, through the federal and provincial governments, we got a lot of money and we ended up getting flooring and banquet tables and chairs and curtains,” Tibbo noted. “That allows us to put a cover on the ice when we want to have other events during ice season. It allows our local schools to have their graduations. So, we were very lucky at the time that when the building was done there was money floating around, not only to build an arena, but also to include the amenities that went into it to make it successful.”

Though he has been retired only a month, Tibbo has already been getting calls from people wondering if he is interested in work. For now, he is just going to enjoy the summer.

“I’m glad that I left and that I left on my own terms, which is really good,” Tibbo said. “I left with so many thank yous and best wishes from residents and user groups, and that was really gratifying… I am going to take a little break. it could be a long break, it could be a short break, I don’t know. But I’ve certainly left the door open…. There are no plans right now… When September rolls around, I’ll see where I am to then.”

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