Gary BallingFile 2005

After more than 11 years as the executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, Gary Balling announced at Thursday’s board meeting that he will retire in April 2012.

“There’s never a perfect time to leave a leadership position like mine, but I think it’s the right time for me and my wife,” Balling, 57, said in an interview Friday.

He wanted to stay until April to make sure there’s a good transition for his replacement, whom the park board will conduct a national search to find. Balling also said he wanted to be around when the park district celebrates its 100th anniversary that month. He will mark his 12th year in the position in March.

“It’s been really challenging but extremely fulfilling,” he said.

One project Balling said he was proud of was the restoration of the Peace Triumphant Monument in Scoville Park in 2010. The restoration of the World War I memorial was needed for years, and Balling said it was meaningful because it honors the people who have served our country.

Balling said completing master plans for parks and creating the citizens committees for resident input were also notable during his tenure.

The Barrie Park remediation project that began in 2001 was one of Balling’s biggest challenges and accomplishments, he said. A manufactured gas plant operated at Lombard and Garfield Street for almost 40 years, leaving coal-tar contaminants in the soil. That parcel was later deeded to the park district by the utility which had operated the plan.

Balling said starting the remediation project, figuring out how extensive the cleanup would be and holding utility companies responsible for completing agreements that included paying the village were all difficult.

Since he’s been working “full speed ahead” for almost 12 years, Balling said he’s now planning to slow down and spend more time with family. He and his wife hope to take a driving trip and visit some national parks on their way to seeing his wife’s family in Washington.

Balling said he had no professional plans yet for the future, but he’s always approached his job with a sense of calling.

“And that’s how I’ll continue to approach my life,” he said.

Related story:

Join the discussion on social media!

19 replies on “Gary Balling, chief of Oak Park’s park district, retiring in 2012”