Rendering of the park district’s proposed $22M rec center. | Provided

The Park District of Oak Park’s plan to build a community recreation center is well on the way to becoming a reality, thanks to a sizeable donation from local philanthropist duo Patty and Ken Hunt. The couple have pledged $1 million toward construction of the center through the “A Place to Belong” capital funding campaign carried out by the Parks Foundation of Oak Park, a separate nonprofit entity that works closely with the park district. 

“With their gift, they’ve gotten us even closer to where we need to be,” said Edward Kerros, vice president of the foundation’s board of directors.

The park district has committed to not using tax dollars to fund the community recreation center. In recognition of this, the Parks Foundation is looking to raise $22 million to build the center, through which the park district plans to offer recreation, mental health, fitness and free after-school programming for Oak Park residents. The foundation, which began quietly fundraising for the project about 18 months ago, is hosting a family-friendly celebration at the site of the future rec center, 229 Madison St., on Saturday, Sept. 18 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. to mark the public launch of the “A Place to Belong” capital funding campaign. Patty Hunt, who was not immediately available for comment, is among the event’s speakers. 

Kerros remained mum on just how much the foundation has raised of its $22 million goal, stating that the progress report will be given at the event, which will also feature games and refreshments. 

“I really don’t want to spill the beans until the event because we’re building up to sharing that exciting news,” said Kerros. “What I can say is that we’ve made tremendous progress.”

That progress has been made with the help of both individuals and businesses, as well as granting organizations, he said.

Also speaking at the launch event will be the capital campaign’s co-chairs, Dr. David Ansel and Mary Jo Schuler, who has also made a considerable contribution to the cause by donating the land on which the park district will build the recreation center. She and her husband Stephen Schuler, both Oak Park natives, transferred ownership of the acre of land on Madison Street in November of 2019.

Ansel and Schuler have made quite an effective team, according to Kerros, who credited the co-chairs for much of the campaign’s success.

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“We are really blessed to have Mary Jo and David as our co-chairs,” said Kerros. “They’ve been very instrumental in getting the word out and getting people excited.”

Schuler said fundraising has gone well so far, despite disapproval from some members of the community about building a new center. Schuler called that group of “a very, very small minority.” She believes every community has a group of people resistant to change and investment in its citizens. In Oak Park, that group is far outnumbered by the residents in favor of improving the community, according to Schuler.

“There’s a whole army of people in our community who have a passion for investing in our community,” she said, “and to also, in this instance, perpetuate low-cost, no-cost opportunities to engage in an active lifestyle at the community recreation center.”

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