Nine volunteers were recognized last week for their service to the Park District of Oak Park at the district’s annual community service awards event, held at the Oak Park Conservatory.
Friends and park board members handed out plaques honoring the services of Doug Chien, Andrzej Djnowski, John Donley, Michael Fus, Galen Gockel, Frank Heitzman, Steve Kelley, Jim Kelly, and Kevin Toye.
Chien is chair of the Greening Advisory Committee, which focuses on environmental efforts.
“Doug has a polite and kind way of getting things done for the district,” said board member Lise Valentine. “[It’s] something we very much admire.”
“It’s been a real pleasure,” Chien said as he accepted his award. “First-rate staff, first-rate board.”
Djnowski led the project to restore the World War I memorial in Scoville Park. “He and his crew toiled many warm days out there and some cold days to get this completed,” said Mike Grandy, superintendent of buildings and grounds for the park district. “This was not a cookie-cutter type project.”
“It just kept growing,” Djnowski said as he accepted his award, adding that he was prepared for the worst from the very beginning, and in fact, the project went quite smoothly thanks to the park district board.
Donley currently serves as president of the Oak Park-River Forest Strikers soccer club, and has been involved with the organization for 13 years. “John has touched the lives of thousands of children and families in this village in a very positive way,” said Mark Gartland, president of the park board. “John has also worked on sharing resources, collaborating with other communities, [and] collaborating with other people in town to try and get the best program we can.”
“I was surprised and genuinely honored to receive this,” Donley said as he accepted his plaque. “[The park district] is a group I respect very deeply and an exemplar of what I think our public institutions should be like.”
Michael Fus, the preservation architect for the Chicago Park District, contributed his architectural expertise to the WWI memorial restoration project. “We really appreciate everything you’ve done as a neighboring park district … to help bring this project to a very, very successful end result,” said Gary Balling, executive director of the Park District of Oak Park.
“My work with the Chicago Park District takes me all over the city of Chicago, but your monument in Scoville Park is literally in my backyard,” Fus said. “It was an honor and a privilege.”
Galen Gockel, a former District 97 school board member, Oak Park Township assessor, and a member of the Oak Park Board of Trustees over his many years in the community. His community service award, however, recognized his recent role as Festival Theatre’s managing director.
“He’s made it his business to volunteer in so many capacities in our community,” said park board member Christina Graves. “His wisdom, kindness and grace have served him well and have served Oak Park well over the years. … No matter what hat he’s wearing, he’s always our friend.”
“I think this award should really go to the park district,” said Gockel. “You understand the importance of forming a relationship with the artistic communities.”
As an architect, Frank Heitzman has been involved in a number of restoration and repair projects at Pleasant Home in the past 20 years and currently acts as president of the Pleasant Home Foundation board and chair of the restoration committee. “I think you can really see the fruits of his labor,” said Jessica Bullock, a park district commissioner. “Thank you for your continuing commitment.”
“Once you get involved with the Pleasant Home, it’s kind of hard to leave it,” Heitzman said.
Using his expertise on historic preservation projects and significant structural repairs, Steve Kelley provided the park district with technical assistance for the project to restore the WWI memorial. “He’s really somebody that we’re very fortunate to have,” said Balling.
“I was just tickled when they pulled me aside and asked if I’d work on this project,” he said. “It’s really been great working for the park district. It’s a great staff.”
Jim Kelly was recognized for helping to create the South East Oak Park Community Organization, in response to the extended Barrie Park remediation process, and to organize a celebratory community event once the project was completed. The result, Barriefest, has now become an annual event.
“Working with Jim over the past five years on Barriefest … has been a true pleasure,” said Matt Ellman, superintendent of recreation and assistant director of the park district. “He has been a citizen who reflects true community service and goes above and beyond.”
“We’re still the only neighborhood organization of its kind in Oak Park,” said Kelly, as he accepted his award. “The park district has been so supportive of the neighborhood and what we’re trying to do.”
Kevin Toye received the final award of the evening, for his affiliation with the Oak Park American Youth Soccer Organization as a board member. “Kevin’s motto has always been, ‘Remember, it’s all about the kids,’ said Marty Bracco, a park district commissioner.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Toye of his years on the job.