The Parks of Your Life

Jun 2019

by Renee Pollock

For most people who know me well, it’s no surprise to hear me wax eloquent about my love for swimming, most particularly in my beloved park district pools. I found Crystal Lake Pool sometime during my college years which began in 1968. When my boyfriend and soon-to-be husband and I decided to stay in Urbana, we both frequented the pool virtually every day it was open. He’d been a lifeguard and a swimmer when he was young and we both felt lucky to have an aquatic venue near our home, especially as Chicago area people who grew up on the lake. But our relationship with the Urbana Park District is more of a life story than a swimming story. So much of what we shared, first as partners and then as a family, revolved around our active participation in this central element of our community.

As I pondered writing about the district, I surprised myself with how integral to the fabric of my family it’s been in so many different ways.
When our children were babies, we walked them in their strollers through Carle Park, the one closest to our home. As they grew, we pushed them in swings, watched them climb structures,  and eventually, spin on that crazy metal roundabout that made everyone dizzy. They played t-ball at Blair and soccer at Carle, Lohmann and Brookens parks. They took swimming lessons at Crystal Lake Pool. We had family picnics and school picnics at all of those parks. They went to Nature Day Camp and Sports Adventure Camp at Crystal Lake Park. They played basketball at Brookens gym. My husband was a volunteer coach. On hot evenings, before we had air conditioning, we took the kids to the pool for picnics and cooling off before their bedtime. My daughter took ballet classes and participated in youth theater through the park district. My son went birding in Busey Woods. My husband loved taking the family there for nature walks to clear out the brain fog by strolling along the paths there.

We had birthday parties at the Lake House. Each year, Uni High, which both my kids attended, threw its welcome picnic at Crystal Lake Park.  We had my daughter’s high school graduation party along with my husband’s 50th birthday at the large Pavilion. A few years later we had a big blast for my son’s and his two best friends’ high school graduation in the same place. My daughter and son-in-law’s rehearsal dinner was at the Lake House. We shared an adoption celebration for my nephew there and when the door was accidentally locked, my friend Robin Hall, who was the Park District Director for decades, gave me his set of keys to use for our event. The next director, Vicki Mayes, who shared my love for swimming, returned my long lost pool pass, found stuck in a drain at Crystal Lake Pool when it was being closed down to prepare for a new aquatic center. These people were like family to me. We watched fireworks at Crystal Lake Park in the 4th of July and listened to concerts there. We also attended neighborhood nights concerts at other parks, always a special treat. Our kids rolled down Cannonball Hill in the winter on their sleds and bottoms. All of us have enjoyed the splendor of Meadowbrook with its art, winding paths and wildlife. What a glorious addition to our park system. 

On a more professional level, my job as an assessment official caused me to cross paths many times with park district personnel who represented their taxing district. We shared information and planning tools for financing their budget.  Eventually I took a place on UPDAC, the Urbana Park District Advisory Committee. A team effort, with district staff and citizen volunteers working to improve the quality of parks for serving Urbana citizens in the best way possible,  was one of my great pleasures as a volunteer. Every day I still get to see one of my contributions to the district, the unblemished Lincoln statue at Carle Park, surrounded by plantings as a natural barrier to graffiti writers. That came from my suggestion based on another pristine statue I’d seen during my travels. I think it’s my lasting mark on my community. Eventually, my daughter took a place on UPDAC, continuing a tradition of family public service. 

Today, I’m still swimming away, indoors at the Aquatic Center and back at my beloved Crystal Lake during the summer. My grandson is a Crystal Lake day camp kid. I’ve maintained many friendships with the good people I’ve met through all the different participations that have engaged me and my family for over 45 years. Truly, the park district is the impetus behind building a community for so many people in so many ways. For me it’s brought pleasure and friendship. I’ll always be grateful to live in a place that embraces people while providing powerful stewardship of our natural resources. Lucky me and all of my fellow citizens.

-Renee Pollock, on behalf of myself and my family