ENCINITAS — Terry Sisson has a life anyone would envy. At 76, he’s free and unencumbered with retirement benefits he collects from three sources: the U.S. Navy, Caltrans and the city of Encinitas.
He also has nine children, 35 grandchildren, one great grandchild, and another on the way, scattered across the globe who, no doubt, would love to see him.
Instead, Sisson has chosen to spend the past six years as the park host at Cottonwood Creek Park. He receives no compensation, just a place to park his RV. He also gets free electricity, phone, sewage and basic cable.
Why does he do it?
“This is a magical mystery place,” he said. “Eight out of 10 kids cry when they leave because they don’t want to go home.”
Sisson also admits to being an incurable people watcher who appreciates sentimental sights such as a father and son playing catch or an elderly man tenderly taking his wife for a stroll.
“A couple of days ago I saw a Latino man kicking a soccer ball with his son,” he said. “It doesn’t get any better than that.”
Since the park opened in 2004 he’s counted license plates from every state in the union.
Sisson is required to be onsite between the hours of 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. as a deterrent
to vandalism and other illegal activity. His biggest headaches are with transients and teens who hang out at midnight.
“If a transient is a vet I’ll ask him if he’s willing to get sober and clean up,” he explained. “If he is, I take him to Veterans Village in San Diego where he can get three meals a day, free legal advice, resume help, a haircut and shower, and new used clothing.”
Sisson falls back on his experience as a dad in dealing with teens.
“You have to go into a situation with respect,” he said. “I’ll say, ‘C’mon guys. You can see the sign. Now go on.’ They’ll say, ‘Just one more?’”
On rare occasions Sisson has had to summon the sheriff’s department. He’s on a first name basis with most of the deputies, from his years maintaining Encinitas streets.
John Blenkle is a community service officer with the Encinitas Sheriff’s Department who stops by to say “hi” to Sisson whenever he cruises through the park in his patrol car. A retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps, Blenkle holds great respect for Sisson as a retired SeaBee, the construction and maintenance wing of the Navy.
“Terry shows the city of Encinitas how to do things right the first time — the SeaBees way,” he said with a smile. “Whenever I had a Marine outfit on a beach somewhere I would always set up next to the SeaBees because they had the best chow, the best beer and the best showers.”
Sisson walks through the park at least twice a day, sometimes four times, making sure the lighting system is working and there’s no need for extra cleanup after a picnic or birthday party.
“I’m the eyes and ears of the park,” he said. “I probably save the city $250,000 to $350,000 annually.”
Sisson is not sure how much longer he’ll hang around. He just bought a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which he says he can finally cross off his bucket list. He’s eager to put the vehicle to use so he can tend to other items on the list — like traveling.
“I’m the kind of person who has to see what’s on the other side of the hill,” he said. “I want to see the tulip festival in Holland, Mich. I saw it once and I want to see it again.”
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