Trail-blazing female park keeper paved the way for others

Posted on 17 September 2019 by Tesha Christensen

Longtime Nokomis Recreation Center’s Cindy Waelhoff Lidstone retires

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
Cindy Waelhoff Lidstone began her long career with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board in September 1980, when she was hired as a park keeper trainee. Half a year later, she moved into a permanent position – and a park keeper she remained for just two months short of 39 years.
Lidstone’s first assignment was at South Minneapolis’ Pershing Field, where she worked for 22 years.
She said, “I was 23 when I started there, and only the sixth female park keeper in the history of the city. At the time, I was one of the youngest people on staff. By the time I retired on June 28 of this year, I was one of the oldest. I felt like I grew up in the park system, like we all grew up together.”
Robert Nielsen, an early co-worker, said, “Cindy always had a positive attitude and a great work ethic. I’m sure those helped her get through in the beginning, when the world of park maintenance was very much a man’s world. I know she had to prove herself along the way. She not only hung in there, she went on to open doors for other women to follow her as park keepers and crew leaders.”

“It was kind of scary at first, being so much in the minority.”
~ Cindy Waelhoff Lidstone

A park keeper has a long list of responsibilities but, in short, their job is to keep all aspects of their park looking clean and good throughout the year. That includes maintenance of park buildings, park grounds, athletic fields, and ice rinks – as well as helping park patrons to have a positive experience.
Lidstone said, “Things were very different back when I started; each park had a couple of telephones, but there weren’t any computers. I suppose nail guns had been invented, but we didn’t have one. When we put the ice rinks up, we pounded every nail in by hand.
“The work was very physical in all seasons, but we used to say, ‘The winters would make or break you.’ Working with ice is really hard.”

“Cindy was definitely a trailblazer for us women who followed in her footsteps. Along with the few other gals who survived, she paved the way for the rest of us. Cindy is a real trooper.”~ Former co-worker Mary Mattson

Seventeen years ago, Lidstone transferred to Lake Nokomis Park.
She said, “I grew up a stone’s throw from there. I eventually bought our family home, so I’m still close by. I walked the park grounds for all those years, and just got a cart right before I retired.”
There are plenty of reminders for Lidstone that nearly four decades have passed since she first donned a park uniform.
For starters, when she was a young park keeper there was no such thing as work clothing for women. She said, “We had to buy men’s steel toed boots, and work clothes that were cut and sewed for men. Everything was always a little too big.”
Lidstone claims she had no sense of being a role model for women in the 1980s. She said, “I just needed a job. I couldn’t live with mom and dad forever!”
As it turned out, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board employed half her family. She said, “My two brothers and I worked our whole careers there, and my son has joined the ranks, too. My sister worked as what was called a ‘park matron’ many years ago, helping the park keeper with cleaning jobs.”
Lidstone is still getting used to the new rhythm of retirement. As someone who has worked full-time since graduating from high school, it’s been an adjustment. While she may not miss the alarm clock going off at 5 a.m., she is grateful for her long tenure as park keeper with the Minneapoli Parks and Recreation Board.
She said, “This turned out to be the best job in the world for me. I learned new things every day, until the day I walked out the door.”

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