The Times photo by Betsy Reason
Cicero Parks Superintendent Charlie Cambre, who has been instrumental in the improvement of the town's parks and park events during his past 29 years, will be honored at a retirement party on Saturday at Red Bridge Park in Cicero.
The Times photo by Betsy Reason Cicero Parks Superintendent Charlie Cambre, who has been instrumental in the improvement of the town's parks and park events during his past 29 years, will be honored at a retirement party on Saturday at Red Bridge Park in Cicero.
When I think of Cicero Parks Department, I think of Charlie Cambre.
He’s the only parks superintendent folks have ever known.
Ever since the New Orleans native was hired as the first full-time employee at Cicero Parks Department 29 years ago, in 1991, he has worked diligently to improve the town’s parks, park programs and park events for the community.
There’s a sign naming Red Bridge Park’s pier and kayak launch as “Charlie’s Landing,” in honor of Cambre, a fitting tribute to the driving force behind the pier and ADA launch area at the park.
Cambre, 66, quietly retired on May 1 during this COVID-19 (Coronavirus Disease) pandemic. He will be honored at a retirement party from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at Red Bridge Park Community Building. The community is invited to attend. A special presentation will be made at 3 p.m.
He had turned in his retirement date a year ago. He and his wife, Marcia, had plans to travel, including to fly to Europe to see their oldest son, Paul, 37, and daughter-in-law and 15-month-old grandson, Damiano. “Then the virus hit. And we couldn’t do anything,” said Cambre, whose retirement party was also delayed.
Cambre was ready to retire. “It was just time,” he said. “There was a lot accomplished. It was time for someone to come in and take over.”
He spent much of 2019 doing a lot of parks maintenance and prepped and painted all of the buildings. (Red Bridge Park’s community pool didn’t open this season due to the pandemic.)
Cambre has loved his job these past 29 years. “I made it what it was. It was fun. And enjoyable. It was community … I used the (parks) property as well as I could ....” He said the community gave him a lot of input; the Town Council did as well. “I saw people every day. It was an enjoyment, good staff, good people.” He kept track of the high school kids he would hire each year; many would come back and work for him year after year. “I had a great secretary Kim Leeman,” he said. Cambre also is thankful for his wife (who recently retired from teaching) and family, and Friends of the Park. “I have a lot of people to thank,” he said, starting to choke up, thinking back at all of the lives that he touched and those who touched his life.
Cambre, who loves old cars but doesn’t own one, has a Red Bridge Park Car Show trophy named after himself, “Charlie’s Choice,” his favorite pick of the entries in the annual car show, which this Labor Day will be celebrating its 29th year.
Cambre helped start the car show when former Cicero Town Council member Bill McKee and some of his co-workers at Delphi Automotive in Kokomo, came up with the idea to create a car show called Red Bridge Rod Run in conjunction with the Elwood Vintage Car Club.
“We were just grabbing ideas, and I was new,” Cambre said. “....It’s an event that I saw would work. I didn’t realize it would take off….that something like that would spark.”
And spark interest it did.
“It opened my eyes,” said Cambre, who saw the opportunity to keep the car show going each year. “I found out that people really cherish cars.”
Cicero Friends of the Park took over the car show seven years ago, when the name was changed to the current Red Bridge Park Car Show. The car show over the years has grown to about 250 vintage and classic cars.
The Friends have used funds raised from the car show for parks amenities, including playground equipment. Net proceeds from car show entry fees, donations, sponsorships, and Cicero Friends’ food booth in 2018 were used for a 12-foot-tall curly slide, that cost $22,000 with mulch and concrete, that was installed that July at Cicero Community Park.
Cicero Friends of the Park, formed in 1995 “to help out the community and the parks and provide some events that would bring people back to the parks,” Cambre said.
“For a small group of about 10 people, they do fairly well….” he said, “It’s not a board but an advisory group through the Town Council.”
Friends of the Park has raised money for the previous years’ Sunday night summer band concerts at Red Bridge Park and for the purchase of benches, picnic tables and helped out with the new pier and Central’s Indiana’s first handicap accessible canoe and kayak launch.
He said Friends of the Park was always a huge asset. “They carried a load, stepped up when I needed funds, came to me and asked me which projects I was working on and what I needed.”
Cambre, who still has his southern Louisiana accent, came to Indiana with a background in agriculture and horticulture. He attended college at University of Southwest Louisiana, and had organic and inorganic courses left to complete, but instead quit and went to work for a landscaping company in New Orleans. He went from there to an upscale, gated housing community where he planted 10,000 trees and 50,000 shrubs over 10 years.
He met his wife, Marcia, a native of Marion, Ind., who has a teaching degree from Ball State University, when she traveled down to Louisiana to help her brother at his nursery business, where Cambre was employed. They married and raised two sons, and moved to Noblesville to be near her family. He worked for a landscaping company that served many homes in the Geist area, then opened his own landscape business, called Cutting Edge, which served homes in Carmel’s upscale neighborhoods.
Cambre was the only full-time Cicero Parks employee during his first 22 years, until the parks department hired a full-time secretary, Kim Leeman, seven years ago, and in 2018 added a full-time maintenance employee, Paul Leeman (unrelated to Kim Leeman).
Cambre’s staff, including part-time and seasonal employees, operated 55 acres of park land in Cicero, plus some public lands that the parks department takes care of there. The parks department has taken in 26 acres for the five baseball fields by Community Park.
There is also a pocket park in Cicero developed by Our Town Cicero main street organization on property that had been used mostly for the town’s snow dumping. It’s on the property where the Cicero Town Clerk’s office used to be at 150 W. Jackson St. The building, which used to be a car-repair shop, then a cafe before the clerk’s office, was demolished in 2018. The clerk’s office moved to a new space at 331 E. Jackson St., east of downtown Cicero. Cambre’s office, which started in the marina, moved to Red Bridge Park community building, to another maintenance building, then the clerk’s office, is now inside a new maintenance building, which he designed, and it opened in 2011, at 1050 S. Pearl St., near Community Park.
Cambre started a five-year master plan for Cicero Parks within his first five years of parks department employment, during which time he also served as president of both Cicero Kiwanis Club and the former Cicero Chamber of Commerce, which has since joined with Sheridan and renamed Northern Hamilton County Chamber of Commerce.
He reminisced about how much jambalaya and crawfish pie that he helped cook (it took about 30 people five hours) for the New Orleans Suppers that the Chamber started and he was involved in for 15 years.
Cambre is already enjoying retirement, working around his new house, reseeding the grass and working on the landscaping. He and his wife recently sold their 2-½-acre property just outside of Cicero and downsized to a newer home near Morse Lake Marina in Noblesville. He doesn’t miss mowing the big yard.
In retirement, Cambre plans to spend more time with both of his sons and their families. His other son, Kyle, 34, and daughter-in-law who live in Atlanta, have a 6-month-old granddaughter, Vivienne.
Cambre, grand marshal of the 2019 Cicero Christmas Parade, will also be the grand marshal of the 2020 Lights Over Morse Lake July 4 parade in Cicero.
Since Cambre has been a parks employee, Cicero has grown from a population of about 3,200 when he was hired, to about 5,200 people currently. Cicero Parks has grown as well, from an annual operating budget of $120,000 to the current $900,000, he said.
Kudos to Cambre and his devotion to Cicero Parks. The community will miss Charlie Cambre.

-Contact Betsy Reason at Sam Haymaker of Cicero has been hired as the new parks superintendent; his wife is Mary Ann Haymaker, Hamilton Heights Youth Assistance Early Intervention Advocate and daughter of Perry Williams.