As a youngster growing up in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Jim McDaniel dreamed of moving someplace else.
But after tasting big city life, he returned to Plant City, went to work for the local government, and as community services director played a key role in shaping its future.
"He has his handprint all over this city, from city parks to Midtown," City Commissioner Rick Lott said.
McDaniel, who retired Sept. 30 after more than 35 years with the city, said he is glad he returned to Plant City and is proud he supervised projects that made it a better place in which to live.
Among other duties, he obtained and oversaw grants for construction of parks, negotiated real estate deals and laid the groundwork for redevelopment of Midtown.
McDaniel is easing into retirement. He will stay on as a 16-hour a week employee for three months to a year -- to ensure a smooth transition and to oversee projects he has started.
"It's something I've been looking forward to for the last couple of years," he said of retirement.
McDaniel, 65, was born in St. Petersburg and moved to Plant City when he was 4 years old. He graduated from Marshall High School in 1964 and worked as a launch technician at Kennedy Space Center for a couple of years before he was drafted into the Army and served two years, mostly in Korea.
He moved to the Washington, D.C. area for a few years, where he worked for a financial company and as a music promoter, as well as in other jobs, before returning to Plant City.
In 1977, then City Manager Nettie Draughon hired him for a year to oversee public works projects. He impressed her, and was offered a chance to stay.
His job title evolved through the years until he was given the title of community services director about seven years ago.
In 1992 he completed a master's degree in speech communication at the University of South Florida. He had earned a bachelor's degree at USF in 1971.
McDaniel is proud of many projects, particularly the construction of 11-acre Samuel W. Cooper lake and park, 900 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. With his oversight, the city bought about two dozen homes that were razed to make way for the park and lake. The lake retains storm water and has eliminated serious flooding that previously plagued the neighborhood.
The lake and park are considered among the most attractive recreation areas in the city.
"I grew up just a few blocks from that lake. We were able to stop flooding and make it into a really nice amenity. I'm most proud of that," he said.
McDaniel said he decided to step down because he was at retirement age and still is in good health. His plans for the near future include more travel with his wife, Denise, who still works in the city's utilities billing department. He will be even more free to travel once his part-time work ends.
"On my bucket list is to visit all 50 states. I have about 14 left to go," he said. "I also want to take a cruise to Alaska."