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Published September 21st, 2016
Jonathan 'Ace' Katayanagi - The Face of Fun in Lafayette
Johnathan "Ace" Katayanagi Photo provided

It's easy to see why Jonathan "Ace" Katayanagi is such a natural for the position of Parks, Trails and Recreation (PTR) director, which he will take over from Jennifer Russell on Oct. 1.
His enthusiasm for the job is obvious. He says it first started when his father drove past some kids playing hockey in the community center parking lot on St. Mary's Road, years before the hockey facility was built in 2008, and thought his son, then 14 years old, could play there. Katayanagi, a hockey fan, loved it and would stay to help put the minimal equipment they had back then away. That led to refereeing hockey games and even when he went away to college at U.C. Santa Cruz he continued to work for the summer camp program back here in Lafayette. During term time in Santa Cruz he became involved with youth and adult sports programs there, too.
After college he took a job working as a building attendant in Lafayette, organizing special events. He was responsible for building the Little Kickers soccer program, which in turn led to the Little Hoopsters program for the very young. He created and directed the Camp Awesome program. The nickname "Ace" comes from that time and has stuck with many Lafayette families. His first students are now out of college. In fact, one couple that met while working as camp counselors with Katayanagi are now getting married.
Katayanagi grew up in Martinez and now lives near his parents with his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son.
He is completely familiar with the way the PTR works, including how to keep all the programs thriving; they continue to be self-supporting. He says having worked here so long he knows how to keep it going and pass it forward.
He is humble and credits Russell for building such a great program. "I have worked with Jennifer Russell for 18 of her 37 years. We have a great friendship. It is great to know that I will still be able to turn to her for guidance after her retirement. She is the mother of Parks, Trails and Recreation in Lafayette and will remain a valuable resource for this department." He says Russell, along with Geoff Bellenger, Alison Hill and Carol Singer from the PTR commission have all been hugely influential.
But Katayanagi has ideas of his own, too, and brings a new perspective. He is already exploring ways to engage the downtown, utilizing Plaza Park and the library amphitheater for concerts, working closely with the youth commission and the library's teen advisory board as well as the Chamber of Commerce.
He explains, "When I created Camp Awesome I wanted to create a program that kids loved because it was fun, exciting and awesome; and parents loved because it was easy, flexible and worked with the enrichment programs they wanted to expose their kids to; and staff and volunteers loved because it was fun and rewarding to be there. I want to take that Camp Awesome philosophy, that energy, and apply it to all of Lafayette Parks, Trails and Recreation. The city's volunteer-run boards, such as the city council and the PTR commission, are working with staff to make awesome things happen for the community. We have awesome facilities, we have awesome trails, we have awesome programs and I want the community fully engaged with their awesome resources."
At the heart of any vibrant, active community such as Lafayette's are many volunteers and a few key people; Katayanagi is undoubtedly one of them.

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