By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Marta Moorman can’t talk about her students without tearing up.
More than any award or committee appointment, they’re what made her University of Nebraska at Kearney career so special.
She loves seeing the UNK graduates working at state parks across Nebraska and hearing from former students who are now running successful recreational programs.
“When I go to Nebraska Recreation and Park Association meetings, I look around, and there are my students,” Moorman said with emotion in her voice. “I guess I feel like maybe I’ve helped move the profession forward in our state.”
Moorman has spent the past 23 years leading UNK’s recreation, outdoor and event management program, which prepares students for a variety of careers ranging from park superintendent and outdoor adventure coordinator to event planning and hotel management.
The program – the only one of its kind in Nebraska – has been a perfect fit for the Oklahoma native, who developed her passion for recreation at a young age.
She was a junior high student in her hometown of Tonkawa when a faculty member from the local community college created a new summer program for the community.
“He came up with all of these ideas, things we would have never thought of,” she said.
The program, which featured activities such as archery, horseback riding and children’s theater, made an immediate impact.
“Even as a junior high kid, I remember thinking, if every child had this opportunity, we wouldn’t have any problems,” Moorman said. “We would be too busy having fun.”
“That kind of carried through,” she added. “That’s why I’m where I’m at today.”
Moorman dedicated her career to “helping people have fun” and making communities a better place to live. The UNK professor views recreation as a way to improve someone’s overall well-being by benefiting both physical and mental health and encouraging social interaction.
Her classes get students out in the community, where they experience the local parks, hike/bike trails and other amenities. She led a project, along with UNK’s Recreation Majors Club, that created a disc golf course in Kearney’s Centennial Park and was part of the committee that developed the Patriot Park ballfields.
A member of the Nebraska and National Recreation and Park Associations, Moorman has served on the Kearney Park Board since 2002 and the city’s trails committee since 2013.
“Dr. Moorman has had a tremendous impact here at UNK and in the state,” said professor Nita Unruh, chair of the kinesiology and sport sciences department.
That impact is represented by the plaques displayed in her office.
Moorman received CHI Health Good Samaritan’s Healthy Community Award in 2017 and the Nebraska Recreation and Park Association’s (NeRPA) Distinguished Service and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. She has three other NeRPA awards recognizing her contributions to the community, state and profession, and accepted the UNK College of Education Outstanding Teacher Award in 2014.
Prior to joining the UNK faculty in 1996, Moorman taught middle and high school science in Oklahoma, developed a youth recreation program in Guatemala while serving in the Peace Corps, worked as an environmental educator and held various positions with the University of Arkansas, where she earned her Doctor of Education.
Although she’s retiring at the end of August, the 62-year-old doesn’t plan to slow down anytime soon.
She enjoys kayaking, long-distance biking along trails across the Midwest and participating in the Nebraska Senior Games. Moorman grows fruits and vegetables at her home northwest of Kearney and plays guitar at Prince of Peace Catholic Church, and she wants to find more time to volunteer at Rowe Sanctuary and visit family members scattered across the country.
“I’ve done the same thing for 23 years,” Moorman said. “I’m ready for a new challenge. I’m ready for new adventures.”
Her colleagues, on the other hand, aren’t quite ready to see her go.
“Marta is one of the most compassionate and empathetic individuals I know,” Unruh said. “She is a truly wonderful person, willing to help anyone. I hate that she is retiring, but I am excited all the same.”
Position: Professor of recreation
Years at UNK: 23
Education: Associate of Science, physical education, Northern Oklahoma College, 1977; Bachelor of Science in Education, physical education, University of Oklahoma, 1980; Master of Science in Education, recreation administration and outdoor education, State University of New York College at Cortland, 1988; Doctor of Education, health, kinesiology, recreation and dance, recreation emphasis, University of Arkansas, 1997.
Career: Science teacher and assistant basketball coach, Maysville High School (Oklahoma), 1980-82; Science teacher and basketball/softball coach, Irving Middle School (Norman, Oklahoma), 1982-84; Youth development worker, U.S. Peace Corps (Jalapa, Guatemala), 1984-86; Graduate assistant, department of recreation and leisure studies, SUNY Cortland, 1986-88; Teacher/naturalist, YMCA of Greater New York, Greenkill Environmental Education Center, 1988-89; Program coordinator, Pocono Environmental Education Center (Dingmans Ferry, Pennsylvania), 1989-90; Recreation facility coordinator, University of Arkansas, 1990-92; Graduate assistant in recreation, University of Arkansas, 1992-94; Elderhostel coordinator, University of Arkansas, 1994-96; Professor of recreation, UNK, 1996-present (promoted to full professor in 2008).
Professional service/memberships: National Recreation and Park Association, 1992-present; Nebraska Recreation and Park Association, 1996-present; Certified Park and Recreation Professional, 1998-2011 and 2014-present; The Academy of Leisure Sciences, 2013-present; UNK Recreation Majors Club, adviser, 1997-2018; UNK Institutional Review Board, College of Education representative, 2015-18; Commission for the Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies, 2014-17; UNK Graduate Council, College of Education representative, 2011-14.
Community service: Kearney Park Board, 2002-present; Kearney Trails Committee, 2013-present; Kearney Ballfield Committee, 2013-18.
Awards/honors: CHI Health Good Samaritan Healthy Community Award, 2017; Nebraska Recreation and Park Association Distinguish Service and Lifetime Achievement Award, 2015; UNK College of Education Outstanding Teacher Award, 2014; Nebraska Recreation and Park Association Fellow Award, 2012; Nebraska Recreation and Park Association Outstanding Recreation Professional, 2002; UNK College of Education Exceptional Performance Award, 1999-2000; Nebraska Recreation and Park Association President’s Award, 1999.