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Shnay: Joyce to conclude 39-year tenure as parks director

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Updated: October 17, 2012 6:12AM



In 1973, a young park district director in Maplewood, Minn., came to Park Forest for a job interview. And as John Joyce drove along a curved street on his way to village hall, he suddenly realized where he was.

“I was in the home of ‘The Organization Man.’ I read the book by William Whyte in college, and now I was here,” Joyce said. “I was thrilled because I studied Whyte’s ideas about urban planning and cluster development in college, so I knew about Park Forest even if I’d never been here before.”

Joyce got his interview with village manager Bob Pierce as well as the job as recreation and parks director. And, last week, after 39 years on the job, he told village officials he planned to retire by the end of the year.

Throughout his tenure Joyce executed plans and projects that today are part of everyday activity in the village.

Looking for an entity to operate the newly built Freedom Hall, the village turned it over to the recreations and parks department. When the YMCA, which owned the Aqua Center at the time, wanted to close the pool complex, it was taken over by his department.

Twenty years ago, when the bank that held the mortgage on the Tennis and Health Club on Sauk Trail went under, Joyce knew that it could be run by his staff. The Central Park Wetlands, which turned the swampy area in Central Park into a recreational area, was a project undertaken by Joyce’s department.

Under Joyce’s leadership, the department also manages, among other things, all public lands and buildings, the Summer on the Green entertainment on the Village Green as well as maintaining 22 parks.

It hasn’t always been fun and games. Joyce was criticized for closing down the Hidden Meadows golf course; for first downsizing the 30-year-old Scenic Ten road race to five miles and then eliminating it; and, most recently, for allowing youths who can swim the use of lanes in the “adult pool.”

Everything seemed to have a life cycle.

“We looked at all these events and realized we had to do something,” Joyce said, insisting that the department needed to “stay ahead of the curve by looking at what’s going on nationally.”

The golf course, he claimed, never attracted enough people to keep it operational and was typical of a downturn in the golf industry. At the end, Joyce claims it cost $80,000 to run the Scenic Ten and that “fewer and fewer people took part as the race got more and more expensive.”

Other programs had their heyday. Softball leagues were once a big item in the summer schedule. Not now.

Some may remember Pizzazz, Park Forest’s answer to the Taste of Chicago. That weekend event, one Joyce said was a consistent money-loser, cost nearly more than $40,000 to run. It is no secret there was pressure to keep many of these events, especially the Scenic Ten, but in the end, they were gone.

Today his department needs to plan programs and events for an older, more diverse and declining population. One recent example was a concerted effort to give swimming lessons to children in an effort to save young lives.

Joyce said he is most proud of his staff of 20 (up from the eight when he took over in 1973).

“I let them do their work,” he said. “I stay out of their way.”

Village residents still will see Joyce around town in his large floppy straw fedora.

“I may be retiring, but I am not leaving Park Forest,” Joyce said. “This has been our home since 1973.”

John and Robin Joyce have been married 44 years, raising two children, and are grandparents of three.

“Park Forest is where we live; where we want to say,” Joyce said.



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