Larry Piekarz is our kind of leader. Positive, inclusive, generous, low-key.
Now the inevitable news that Piekarz, the park district's director since 2006 and a staffer since 1989, will be retiring this fall. That will be after the crowning achievement of his career — he would correct us and say, "Forest Park's achievement" — that being the opening of the Roos Recreation Center.
This new facility, moving toward its opening in the late spring, has been a journey. It's like it didn't want to get built. It was Piekarz's steady, relentless effort — he'd correct us and salute the park board, the park staff, the architects, generous taxpayers, the village, financial consultants, legislators — that made this real. In the process, the park district expanded its footprint at its primary facility by one-quarter; took out a derelict, though notable, old building; and added great recreation options, including a gym, track, fitness facility and meeting rooms.
Piekarz isn't wrong in always finding other people to credit. The Roos project would not have happened without all of the people listed above. But it was Piekarz's quiet, determined outreach that orchestrated the necessary collaboration among all those people and entities.
In a small town where our civic life is too often divisive, Larry Piekarz is the epitome of a community builder. A good word for everybody. Credit all around. He takes joy in the successes his crew achieves. He talks candidly about things that go haywire. "Everything we try doesn't go well, but we're open to trying anything," Piekarz says in today's article by Tom Holmes.
The park district board will have a challenging job in choosing a successor to Larry Piekarz. You're not going to replicate this man. But maintaining the positive, salt-of-the-earth tenor he created is a worthy goal.
Help on the way
A young family in real trouble found their way into the Howard Mohr Community Center last week. A mom, dad and 10-day-old baby girl. According to Karen Dylewski, director of the community center, the mom has health problems owing to complications from the recent birth. The baby is hungry because the mom can't breastfeed. The dad has cut way back on his work hours to provide care to the mom and baby.
Dylewski reported that the family is Egyptian, the dad and daughter American citizens, the mom in the States on a Green Card. Residents of Forest Park, they've fallen behind on their condo payments as their woes have escalated.
And that's when the Forest Park magic began. What do they need? I've got formula. She's got diapers, are cloth OK? Is there a GoFundMe page? Baby clothes? Is the baby a boy or girl? Where do we drop things off?
Help has arrived. We'd credit this young family for knowing they should reach out for help. We'd thank all the locals who have jumped in to provide help. We'll even give a nod to social media which can be a great unifier when it is not being a great divider. Most fundamentally though, we'd credit the community center for being the welcoming hub of the village, a place people trust to ask for help and to offer help.