Kaj Dentler never thought he would leave parks and recreation. Dentler majored in recreation/leisure services at Virginia Wesleyan and got his first job in the field with a post in Chesapeake a few months before he graduated.
“My goal was to become a director of a parks and recreation department—end of story,” he says. “That was the pinnacle for me career wise, along with winning the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management—both in Herndon and Leesburg.”
But in 2007, when he was serving as director of parks and recreation in Leesburg, Dentler was tapped to become the deputy town manager, and in October 2014 he took over as town manager. Dentler works with the Mayor, Town Council, department heads, residents and businesses to provide government services to the people of Leesburg. He says that his entrepreneurial mindset helps him serve his customers and the public.
Dentler currently lives in Leesburg with his wife, Debbie, and has three children. He thinks that the skills needed to manage a town are pretty similar to those he’s been developing all along.
“You learn to work with all people and are used to doing just about anything, which is exactly what is expected in the parks and recreation field,” he says.
Dentler got into the field because he wanted to work with people.
“There is nothing like making a difference in someone’s life or providing them with unexpected levels of customer service,” he says.
Once, when Dentler was involved in the building of a 20-acre athletic complex in Leesburg, a resident didn’t trust the Town and initially resisted the project.
“But several months after the park opened, the person sought me out to apologize for how he addressed the staff and me, and thanked us for delivering what we promised,” Dentler recalls.
“Over the next several years before his death, the gentleman became a staunch supporter of the park and its operations and a true friend to me. I’ll never forget that.”
From his time at Virginia Wesleyan, Dentler remembers laughing a lot on senior backpack trips led by professor John Braley—who taught in the Recreation and Leisure Studies Department until 2013. He also remembers that work-study jobs in the cafeteria and in the athletic department along with serving as an RA taught him that hard work and taking on responsibilities pays off—in the classroom and in life.
“When you work hard, treat people right, and get the job done, people begin to trust you…from there, opportunities present themselves,” he says.