Denny Parish was first recruited to serve the Wood County Park District 30 years ago, when he was part of a group studying how to use Baldwin Woods.
He became committed to the idea that the Weston woods and wetlands area be touched as little as possible.
“It’s 128 acres of what this place looked like 200 years ago,” said Parish, who is in his final weeks of an almost eight-year term on the park board.
That’s part of the beauty of the Wood County Park District — they’re all very different, Parish said. Some are on the river, one is a quarry, there’s a bike park and an archery range.
Throughout Parish’s term on the park board, many of the parks — which encompass 1,125 acres across the county — have vastly changed.
Sawyer Quarry and Bradner Preserve now have interpretive centers. Arrowwood Archery Range and Rudolph Bike Park opened.
Parish was also instrumental in bringing a future park into the fold. He helped court the Pratt family, who is donating their 168 acres in Perrysburg to the district.
“The pitch we made … was about sculpting the land, making the largest water feature, the largest pond we possibly could. And then taking that dirt and sculpting hills and plateaus all the way around,” Parish said. “And they liked that idea.”
His favorite county park is along the Maumee River.
“I just think Otsego’s a gem, right on the river there, old stone building,” he said.
Parish is known for being blunt during the park board meetings.
“You’ve got questions. You want direct answers,” he said. “And the other thing is, I think you need to do this out in the open, transparent — for the public.”
Parish was appointed to fill a term in spring 2014.
At the time, there was concern about salary compensation in the district.
“That can had been kicked down the road for years,” Parish said. “They tried to give pay raises and it was a disaster.”
Employees did need to be compensated better, but a plan to give some huge increases — some 50% — had riled the public and elected officials.
“In the span of two years, we lost almost 50% of our employees and it was almost always because of compensation,” Parish said. “Solving that problem was probably the biggest thing in the 7 1/2 years.”
The park board brought in a firm to do a salary study. The park commissioners ended up implementing raises over several years.
When he first started on the park board, it was run like a “mom and pop operation,” Parish said.
“It became clear very early that this is a multi-million-dollar business … budget-wise and the assets of the park,” he said. “This is like a large corporation, and it needs to be run that way.”
The park district budget is about $3 million annually.
It’s time to leave the board, he said, and recruit a new member. Parish was appointed by David Woessner, judge of the Wood County Probate and Juvenile courts.
“Judge Woessner’s position is people only serve two full terms,” Parish said. “I agree completely.”
Parish is a former magistrate, who retired in 2009 at age 58.
“I didn’t expect to retire at that age, but they were making changes in the pension system, and I was going to take a substantial hit,” he said.
He continued to teach at Bowling Green State University and at the University of Toledo College of Law until 2019.
Before he was a lawyer, Parish was a teacher.
After graduating with his bachelor’s degree at UT, he taught at Otsego Junior High School and was the athletic director. He also coached at Napoleon, then went to law school — again.
“I went to law school twice,” he said. “I started law school in 1972. I was only 21 years old, and I didn’t like it. I dropped out, threw my books away and went home.”
The second stint at law school started when Parish started thinking about getting a master’s degree so he could go into school administration. He went back to UT to see what his options were.
“I drove by the law school, and I hadn’t been inside the building in six years. I went inside and two of my professors saw me and they remembered me,” Parish said.
He found out that after he had left law school, his grades were marked incomplete, not failing.
“I was in good standing. So, they gave me a fresh start and I went to law school.”
He passed the bar in 1983 and became a criminal prosecutor in Lucas County. Parish was recruited to be a magistrate, then worked 11 years in Wood County. He went back to Lucas County in the same position.
In 2009, Gov. Robert Taft appointed Parish to a vacant seat on the 6th District Court of Appeals. Parish ran for election but lost.
He’s served on over a dozen boards, task forces and commissions, including Wood County Crime Stoppers and the Wood County Historical Society.
“Avid movie fan” is probably too tame of a description for Parish.
He owns thousands of DVDs and VHS tapes of movies, but now prefers to stream films.
He was busted a few years ago when his wife Debbie took a closer look at boxes in their Perrysburg home that were marked “Christmas decorations” and found stacks of movies.
Parish and his son, Carson, write a movie column, “Take One, Take Two,” for the Sentinel-Tribune. (See page 8 in today’s paper for their latest offering.)
“He’s the joy in my life. We talk movies,” Parish said of his son, who is an associate producer in the film department at the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.
“I say he’s living the life he dreamed about. And people say — no, he’s living the life you dreamed about.”