Brashinger: LWSRA director retires after 15 years in post
By Ginger Brashinger Citizen Journalistfirstname.lastname@example.org January 9, 2014 3:28PM
Lana Graser, recently retired executive director of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, packs up her office at Lincoln-Way Central High School on Jan. 3, her last day of work. | Ginger Brashinger~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 13, 2014 6:11AM
Winning a seat on the Mokena Park District Board 25 years ago evolved for Mokena resident Lana Graser into a 15-year career as executive director of the Lincolnway Special Recreation Association, a post from which she retired this month.
In 1988, while raising four children with her husband Richard, Graser, 68, became a park board member and agreed to become the park district’s representative to the association’s board.
“As soon as I got on the board — I wasn’t really all that much aware of special rec before that — I immediately developed a passion for it and was so grateful that I was given the opportunity to do that,” Graser said. “I just ran with it then.”
With 10 years as a dual board member under her belt and 20-plus years of experience in education as a kindergarten teacher at the Children’s Country Club in Frankfort and director of La Petite Academy in Orland Park, Graser felt the timing was right in 1998 to apply for executive director of the special rec association.
From the beginning of her tenure, Graser has been committed to the association’s growth. She said she came to the position with the goal of revising or adding at least one new program per season to the association’s offerings.
But a major challenge to that goal was finding facilities to accommodate the programs.
“We had a tremendous relationship with Lincoln-Way High School (District 210), still do, and whenever they can they let us use the gym, the facilities and we are eternally grateful for that,” Graser said. “They made our program possible in many ways.”
But District 210 was only able to accommodate about 45 percent of the association’s programs, Graser said, and that often left the association either “scrambling” to find other places or having to make the difficult decision to cancel programs.
When she became the director, Graser approached the association’s board “right away,” asking it to give her the opportunity to show that she could save money each year — without compromising existing programs or the goal to add new programs with the longer-range goal of buying or building its own facility.
“I had a very supportive board and they said, ‘Go for it. Let’s try it. Let’s see what we can do,’ ” Graser said.
It has taken 15 years of saving, donations and grant money, but “the first special recreation association building in Illinois built from the ground up” is scheduled to open in April in the Heatherglen subdivision near Laraway and Schoolhouse roads in New Lenox, according to Graser.
The recreation center building will house the association’s offices as well as offering recreation rooms, a teaching kitchen, a gymnasium, locker rooms, a therapeutic garden and a softball field.
Although the $4.5 million center could be considered the crowning achievement of her tenure as executive director, Graser is most proud of the association’s varied programs for people with disabilities.
“We were the first SRA in Illinois to start an adult day program for people with disabilities,” she said. “And that has gotten wildly popular.”
The day program has grown from six weeks to year round, which accommodates the disabled who often cannot find programs once they graduate from high school, Graser said.
“Parents love it because so many times once a child graduates and if they have disabilities, there’s not much out there for them,” she said. “We make it affordable for them.”
She’s also very proud of the development of the adaptive social and sports programs, the latter being founded by Keith Wallace, the association’s former superintendent of recreation who replaced Graser as executive director.
“I’m very proud of the building,” Graser said, “but my biggest pride is in how we’ve developed programs and services for people with disabilities.”
Graser’s retirement won’t end her involvement with the Lincolnway association and the “awesome staff” she’s worked with over the years. She will be available to help if asked, attend activities and volunteer from time to time.
“The nice thing is I’ll be able to do all this and enjoy all this without the stress of being director,” Graser said. “It’s going to be the best of both worlds.”