Joe Croy: Metroparks Assistant Director


Retired assistant director of Metroparks Joe Croy, who left his mark on the organization in numerous ways and was known for is analytical, problem-solving skills, died July 30. He was 77.

Joe started his Metroparks career in 1973. He oversaw various areas of the park system over the next 32 years, from law enforcement to natural resources to information technology. He was promoted in 1985 to assistant director for administration and planning, a position he held for 20 years until his retirement in 2005.

Metroparks reached out to former coworkers of Joe who remembered him for his versatility and commitment to the conservation mission of the park system. Following are their replies.

Top photo: Prairie grasses at Secor Metropark. Photo of Joe in 2004, the year before he retired.

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Contributions Were Many & Significant

Joe was Mr. Computer for the park district. In the early days of computers he took it upon himself to read and learn all that he could about computers. As his knowledge grew so did his patience with staff that he helped make the transition to this new technology easier.

Joe was also involved in land management and was very active in prescribed burns, leading and training teams in the techniques and determining if burns would occur based on weather conditions.

Joe truly had a great interest in the mission of Metroparks and could always be counted on to keep everyone focused on the mission. His contribution to helping make Metroparks what it is today was significant. 

- Gary and Nancy Horn
Gary is retired deputy director
Nancy is retired administrative assistant to the director


From Controlled Fires to Legal Matters

Joe foresaw the need to manage natural areas and initiated land management -- stewardship he called it and retitled himself as Land Steward. He was the first to do controlled burns, setting the first fire, in the Secor Prairie, with a standard hardware store blowtorch. No fire suits, but with water, rakes and shovels standing by.

He brought law enforcement and naturalists skills to us. His first job was as chief of rangers and naturalist services.

He was a valued researcher and advisor on all things, often working on key committees. I served with him on the first wage schedules with a step program, the Wildwood planning committee and the first bargaining unit contract, representing management. 

His contributions may be the most underestimated and underappreciated of any staff member.Joe was not an attorney, but he had a mind for understanding the law. He kept a complete Ohio Revised Code in his library and was constantly evaluating issues and options as needed. He oversaw accounting. too, including financial projections. And, he was our computer guru on all levels, from purchasing to expansion and maintenance.

He made his mark in many ways, always representing the natural areas mission. I credit him with developing Wildwood without destroying the very qualities that made it special. His wisdom brought us to the balance between park and parking that has kept the park from being overrun.

- Art Weber
Art was public information manager for 30 years, then director of the National Center for Nature Photography. He is currently the park district’s nature photographer 


‘Joe Loved the Oak Openings’

My best memories of Joe were out in the field. In preparation for a burn season, I accompanied him and Gary Horn in an area of Oak Openings Preserve that I had never been to. Close to Airport Highway, it had once been considered for park development. Joe proudly showed us some of the biggest oaks outside of Goll Woods. There wasn’t much of an understory except a lot of poison ivy, so Joe planned a burn in order to restore the woodland. His biggest challenge however, was to find a crew who were not allergic to P.I.

Joe appreciated collaborating with the Kitty Todd Preserve manager, Mary Huffman of The Nature Conservancy. Through TNC, he learned more about prescribed burning and land management. The land benefitted from this cooperation, and so did we. He named the management unit, Mary Savanna to honor her work to restore the Oak Openings Region.

Under the guidance of Joe, my first prairie restoration was in the fall of 1982 at Secor Metropark. After some research, we discovered that area had been a prairie in the 1830s, when the Wolfinger family had built the first log cabin, next to the big bur oak tree. We had selected the right spot!

Joe then arranged for the restored prairie area to be disked in preparation of spring planting. We made a list of potential prairie species, then collected the seeds with volunteers in natural areas of Wildwood and Oak Openings. We had collected 142 different species and planted them the next May, a week before my daughter was born. I’m glad Joe was there for advice and support.

Each year, when I see prairie phlox in the Campbell Tallgrass Prairie, I recall Joe showing me the place where it grew. He also treasured the oak savanna just west of there, and named it the “Geographic Savanna,” after he took National Geographic journalists to see this intact remnant oak savanna.

Joe loved the Oak Openings, and as land steward, he was able to help the Metroparks purchase many of its most significant parcels to preserve our region’s natural heritage. It was an honor to work with him.

-Denise Gehring
Denise is retired director of nature programs