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Center named for recreation leader

One of the Tampa Recreation Department's newest crown jewels is named for a man who grew up and grew old with the department.

Barksdale, a Tampa native, hailed from Seminole Heights. He began his long association with Tampa's recreation department in 1942 while in high school, sweeping courts at Sligh Avenue Park for $1 a week. That same year he graduated from Hillsborough High School and joined the Navy. He served on the battleship USS Maryland during World War II.

After the war he attended the University of Tampa on the G.I. Bill. While studying for his physical education major, he returned to the city recreation department, working as an umpire at the North Boulevard Recreation Center. He met his future wife Frances, who was the center's playground director.

Barksdale graduated from UT in 1950 and married in 1952. By 1955 he worked his up to director of the recreation department. He oversaw construction of nine recreation centers, eight public swimming pools and 50 tennis courts. He also co-founded the Tampa Sports Club and helped organize the first Gasparilla Distance Classic.

He retired in 1982. He spent his retirement staying active with his church, playing tennis, and working for his friend George Levy, the trophy maker. In 1993 the North Boulevard Recreation Center was renamed the David Barksdale Senior Center.

The next year, Barksdale died of cancer at age 67. The city proposed renovating his namesake building. But the University of Tampa offered to buy it, paving the way for a new senior center at MacFarlane Park in West Tampa.

Last June the $1.5-million David M. Barksdale Senior Center opened to hundreds of seniors, who packed the place as a big band played '40s hits.