Matt Walsh has been a consequential leader of the Park District of Forest Park over the past eight years. Those were eight years of the park’s most ambitious, most innovative, most determined, most fun efforts in our memory.
Walsh announced his resignation from the park board recently and his departure came on the last day of August. He left because he knew he could not give the park board duties the attention necessary as his young career took him to a new level as the acting village manager of Homer Glen, a far south suburban community.
In his resignation letter, he made plain his continuing affection for both the parks and his hometown of Forest Park. In fact, he closed the letter with a MacArthur-esque “I shall return” reference. That’s good news to us because the Forest Park farm team has not produced many leaders of Walsh’s talent and temperament.
This would be the moment to remind readers that Walsh got elected to the park board in 2013 when he was just 20. Seemed at the time like a gimmick to us, an indulgence. And then we met him in an endorsement interview and it was clear that this kid had the most thoughtful take on what The Park could be, what its considerable strengths were, and what direction it needed to go.
A team player in the most generous and productive way, Walsh came onto a board that was entrenched, as most of Forest Park’s elected bodies have traditionally been. But he didn’t rail against it. He seems to have understood the virtue of that long service but found ways to enliven the work.
And so over his eight years on the board, he and his fellows accomplished much.
Expanding the footprint of The Park on Harrison Street through the determined acquisition of the old and decrepit Roos Cedar Chest factory, finally demolishing it and then constructing the enormously successful Roos Rec Center is certainly the most singular and visible accomplishment in which Walsh played a role.
But the list is quite long and includes an overdue investment in the district’s historic administration and programming building in The Park, improving the soccer field and the skate park.
With due respect to the retired Larry Piekarz as the park’s executive director, Walsh and John Doss, fellow board member, steered the district to Jackie Iovinelli as the new district exec. Walsh rightly sees her arrival as a top accomplishment with her energy and vision for the parks.
That brings us to the cultural shift that allowed the park district and the village government to recently make the deal that brought the pocket parks under the park district’s domain.
Clearly, and like many including his fellow park board members, we’re fans of Matt Walsh. Smart, kind, inclusive, Walsh is, at a young age, a visionary leader.
We look for his return down the road.