On March 9, 1976, the final signature was affixed to the Joint Agreement that formed the South East Association for Special Parks And Recreation. This was the culmination of eighteen months of discussion, planning, negotiating, and envisioning. This new organization was the first of a second wave of special recreation associations forming in the suburbs of Chicago.
Representing their park boards, the document was signed by Richard T. Condon and Donald F. Breier of Darien, William F. Sherman Jr. and Linda Wander of Downers Grove, Henry Van Kampen and Steven H. Hartman of Lisle, Robert W. Bernas and Ervin Veselsky of Westmont, and Patrick McCarthy and John Kujawa of Woodridge. The original Board members were appointed by their respective districts and officers were elected. The first members of the SEASPAR Board of Directors were William F. Sherman, Jr. from the Downers Grove Park District as President, Pat Kampwirth from the Darien Park District as Vice President, Don Rossman from the Woodridge Park District as Secretary, Henry Van Kampen representing the Lisle Park District, and Joe Schultz representing the Westmont Park District. Ned F. Bell of the Downers Grove Park District was appointed Treasurer.
SEASPAR’s name and acronym is credited to the creativeness of Ruth and David Powers. Ruth was a Downers Grove Park District Commissioner at the time. She and others felt it important to create a name that could be easily pronounced, so she and husband Dave kept playing with words and letters until recommending SEASPAR. The district long-ago grew beyond the “south east” section of DuPage County for which it is named. A name change was never considered as the pronounceable acronym had already gained recognition in the area and around the state as a special recreation association.
Start-up funds were needed in order to establish the organization. A request for $20,000 was presented to the Downers Grove Township, who not only honored the request but began financial support for the organization that has continued for 25 years. This money, along with $15,000 pooled by the member entities, was used to get SEASPAR operating. The organization established its headquarters within the administrative offices of the Downers Grove Park District at 6801 South Main Street. The Darien Woman’s Club and Westmont and Downers Grove Evening Kiwanis Clubs were also recognized for sizable donations during our first months. SEASPAR still enjoys the support of these community organizations, along with many others.
Kathleen M. Ellis, a staff member at the nation’s first special recreation association, Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association, was selected as the first director. Within six months, SEASPAR had hired part-time leaders, who, along with Ellis, began programming. The first program was a program for children attending the Century Hills Education Center. This began a long-standing relationship that continues today with SASED, the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County. In addition to initial programming, the formal business of the association was progressing.
In December of 1976, an internship program was established, a holiday party for 11 adults with physical disabilities was hosted, and SEASPAR’s first brochure was published. It featured 24 programs which began on January 26, 1977. The agency was up and running!
Leisure education programs were conducted during the initial season and cooperative summer programming was investigated with SASED and LADSE, the LaGrange Area Department of Special Education. The first piece of adaptive equipment, a bowling ramp handcrafted by Reed Loy of the Downers Grove Park District, was put into service. The session ended with 433 participants served. SEASPAR was receiving a continuous stream of calls from other communities, including LaGrange, and LaGrange Park, about membership. As the agency grew, legal counsel was needed. Harris Fawell, who later became a U.S. Congressman, was hired as SEASPAR’s attorney. As a state legislator, Mr. Fawell drafted the enabling legislation allowing for the creation and funding of special recreation associations. SEASPAR still retains the services of the firm Mr. Fawell founded, Brooks, Adams, and Tarulis. Over the years, the state legislature has been very supportive of legislation and issues relating to special recreation associations. Incredible support from the state legislation was demonstrated in 2003 with the passage of SB 1881 which removed the special recreation tax levy from the tax cap.
During the first summer of operation, Lisle Township began financial support of SEASPAR. Many activities sponsored by community organizations helped to supplement programming. Some of these early efforts were benefit basketball games between the Knights of Columbus and WJJD radio personalities and Hawaiian luaus. A 10K Fun Run and a Las Vegas Night were held to raise money for accessible park equipment in Woodridge. Contributions from the Downers Grove Junior Woman’s Club began soon thereafter. This organization has sponsored day camp’s Summer Celebration for many years and continues to support the organization. The Chicagoland Bowling Proprietor’s Association “Beat the Champs” program began its financial support of SEASPAR at this time. It is another tradition that continues today. The Fox Valley Bowling Proprietor’s Association “Beat the Champs” program has also become a regular contributor.
In 1978, the Village of Indian Head Park led the way as Cook County communities began to join SEASPAR. This was the beginning of what was nearly a biannual growth pattern for the organization through the 1980’s. With this growth came the need to increase the number of recreation staff. Full-time recreation leaders were hired to plan and conduct the rapidly expanding program offerings. During this programming growth, SEASPAR began purchasing vehicles. The growth in staff and programming also created the need for additional office and storage space. Fortunately, the acquisition and renovation of Lincoln Center in Downers Grove coincided with this need. The park district recreation offices moved to Lincoln Center and SEASPAR had the opportunity to move across the driveway into an entire building at McCollum Park in February of 1979. During this year, Peggy Kobe became SEASPAR’s director.
As previously noted, these were the territorial growth years for SEASPAR. Clarendon Hills joined in 1980, followed by the Community Park District of LaGrange Park in 1982, the Park District of LaGrange in 1985, the Westchester Park District in 1987, and the Village of Western Springs in 1990. This perpetual and rapid growth was overseen by SEASPAR’s third Director, Robert B. Pindar, who joined the agency in February of 1982.
While financial support increased with new member entities, new sources of financial support from community organizations supplemented new program development. The Downers Grove Kiwanis Breakfast Club began their support of SEASPAR by sponsoring an annual Swim Meet for swimmers from SEASPAR and other special recreation associations in 1978. They have also sponsored the Team Bowling Tournament since 1980. SHARE, Service for the Handicapped through Advocacy, Research, and Endowment, began annual donations for the scholarship fund during this era. Campers still receive scholarships as a result of SHARE’s continuous support. In 1981, the first benefits from the annual Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive were received. A substantial contribution has been received each year since then. The St. John Council of Westmont and Downers Grove began this tradition. In recent years the St. Isadore Council contributed generously from its Tootsie Roll Drive.
During the tax cap years, SEASPAR’s ability to generate adequate funds through local property taxes was dramatically reduced, so the need to acquire funds elsewhere was essential. Grants and requests were sent to a number of local and national charities. SEASPAR was most fortunate to receive funding for some of its vehicle purchases. This represents over $110,000 from organizations and individuals. Significant efforts are made to raise funds through the annual Walk-And-Roll-A-Thon and the Holy Cows Sports, Inc./SEASPAR Summer Classic Golf Outing. SEASPAR has also benefited from the Clarendon Hills Daisy Dash and the Taps Gallagher Charity Events.
Over the years, many unique programs have been offered in addition to those that became SEASPAR standards. Week-long trips to Camp Waupaca and Norman B. Barr; Zoo Animals, a work-for-fun program at the Brookfield Zoo; the Stroke Club; Summer Celebration for day campers; and over 850 hot air balloon rides on Serena’s Song provided greater diversity and opportunities for SEASPAR participants. SEASPAR’s first vacation trip to the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tennessee, was conducted in June of 1982. Over 100,000 miles of America, Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico have been explored on subsequent vacation excursions. Closer to home, SEASPAR participants have been given the opportunity to serve as a “Page for A Day” for legislators in Springfield. Trends in leisure lifestyles have an obvious impact on programming. In response, SEASPAR offers programs to keep participants up-to-date with the latest wave of leisure pursuits.
In response to a community need to offer services to children at risk in Downers Grove, SEASPAR cooperates with the police department, park district, and other community agencies to offer a weekly After School Adventures program. This offers children the opportunity to be involved in positive leisure activities and to receive direction from good role models. The need for activities that meet the needs of children and adolescents with autism has increased tremendously, as has the need for day programming for adults. The staff networks with other special recreation associations, special education cooperatives, school districts and other service providers to develop meaningful programs for all.
Through the sponsorship of the Chicago District Golf Association, the Sunshine through Golf program is offered. It provides a great opportunity for beginners to try golf or for experienced golfers to get professional lessons at no cost. Musical programming continues to grow. Besides the long-standing piano lessons, general music and rhythm activities are featured. Actors Guild provides the opportunity to develop speaking and reading skills while performing skits and plays.
Special programming was not only designed for people with disabilities. Beginning in 1985, SEASPAR began a partnership Girl Scout Councils to conduct Handicap Awareness Days. The purpose of this event is to give Girl Scouts an opportunity to learn about the challenges a person with disabilities has in daily life and to explore ways these challenges can be met. More than 5,000 girls have participated in these events, which are now called Ability Awareness Day.
The growth in communities and staff provided the chance to become involved in Special Olympics. Starting slowly with the already established swim team, cross-country skiing was added. The swim team, our first Special Olympics team, continues to thrive today boasting a membership of 25 swimmers. Fifteen Special Olympics training programs are now offered. In 1985, the first SEASPAR athlete was selected for the Special Olympics International (now World) Games. SEASPAR is proud that additional athletes have been selected for World Games. SEASPAR’s World Athlete Hall of Fame includes Tom Zavis, Cross-Country Skiing; Cindy Zajecka, Volleyball; Wayne Neumann, Volleyball; Molly Sosnowksi, Downhill Skiing; and Michelle Sullivan, Swimming.
In 2006, Special Olympics USA held its first National Games. SEASPAR athlete Michele Forzley was selected to represent Team Illinois in golf and SEASPAR staff member Matt Corso was selected as a coach for track and field at this premiere event.
With SEASPAR and Special Olympics, every athlete is a winner. In addition, SEASPAR athletes and coaches have been rewarded with numerous medals and team recognition. As a result of the caliber of their play, excellent sportsmanship, and commitment to skill development, SEASPAR’s volleyball team was highlighted in the Special Olympics “Spirit of Sports.” The basketball team was once given the unique opportunity to participate in a training session with the Harlem Globetrotters. Representatives of the softball team were invited to play at Elfstrom Stadium in conjunction with a Kane County Cougars game. To honor its athletes, the Athlete of the Year award was created in 1992 to recognize athletes who demonstrate dedication, sportsmanship, teamwork, and athletic ability. Recipients of the Athlete of the Year Award are: Peter Benson, Tom Zavis, Jeff Wiemerslage, Cindy Zajecka, Jim Corona, Jeff Osowski, Steven Kalafut, Randy Naberhaus, Molly Sosnowski, David Rebuck, Bridget Brown, Wayne Neumann, Michele Forzley, JoAnn Adamski, and Jason Catalano. The success of SEASPAR’s individual athletes and teams is a direct result of the tremendous enthusiasm, dedication, and positive coaching received from their coaches.
As a result of its growing and unique programming and its cooperative efforts with many community organizations, SEASPAR was nominated and received the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Special Recreation programming. SEASPAR further distinguished itself by winning this honor on its first attempt in the competition.
Recognition from within the community was also forthcoming. Some of the honors bestowed on the organization include:
• Dedicated Volunteer Service Award by the DuPage County Department of Human Services
• Community Service Award by the Girls Scouts of DuPage County Council
• Dedicated Community Organization by the Hinsdale Hospital
• Excellence In Service Award for the Do-Drop In Center by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association- Therapeutic Section
• Best of Show for agency logo by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association
• Outstanding Program Award for Serena’s Song by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association
• Best in Show for an Annual Report by the Illinois Park and Recreation Association
• Loss Control Award for Video Trainer by the Park District Risk Management Agency
Staff members have brought additional recognition to the agency by receiving awards from the state professional organization: Meritorious Service, New Professional, Excellence in Service (twice), Director’s Awards, the Distinguished Service Award, and the President’s Award. Staff members have served on boards and in major leadership roles in state and local professional organizations. The staff’s active involvement in state and local professional organizations continues to enhance SEASPAR’s name and reputation. In addition, staff members serve on the Advisory Councils at universities in Illinois and Wisconsin.
As awareness of SEASPAR and its services became better known, it gained notoriety through the Chicagoland media. The ice skating program was featured on ABC-7 Chicago and on the “In Your Interest” on the Home Shopping Network. ABC-7’s Karen Meyer also featured Serena’s Song on her bi-weekly show that highlights issues, services, and successes involving people with disabilities. SEASPAR families and staff, as well as program video footage, have been featured on informational videos produced by professional organizations.
During SEASPAR’s second and third decade, volunteerism soared. One-by-one individuals began volunteering to share their time and talents with participants. Individual volunteers and those representing organizations seek to give-back to the community by volunteering at one or as many as fifty programs per year. Tens of thousands of volunteer hours have enhanced the opportunities for participants through coaching, role modeling, offering an encouraging word, giving an extra “push,” teaching a new skill, introducing a new hobby, and just being there.
Volunteerism at SEASPAR is not limited to work at programs and special events. The SEASPAR Athletic Booster Club is made up of interested parents and community members who organize and operate fundraising activities for the benefit of SEASPAR’s athletic programs. Annual fund raisers are entertainment! book sales, Bowling and Pizza, Fuddrucker’s Benefit Days, Carson’s Community Days, Max and Erma Benefits, and the Bronswood Plant Sales. This dedicated group generates a great deal of enthusiasm and support for the athletes and provides uniforms, overnight lodging for out-of-town competition, and equipment for the programs.
The development of specialty programs designed for individuals with unique disabilities occurred during the second decade. The Do-Drop-In Center was created to meet a strong community need for recreation programs for people with mental illness and their families. The center was established in cooperation with the DuPage County Health Department and the Alliance for the Mentally Ill in DuPage County. The official grand opening of the program, housed in the Westmont Community Center, was held in October 1988. The continued support of these organizations makes this program possible today.
The Stroke Club, which was created by SEASPAR in cooperation with Hinsdale Hospital, is now a three-way cooperative that includes LaGrange Community Memorial Hospital. Begun in 1988, this program offers education, support, and leisure activities for those who have been affected by a stroke and their families.
As the agency matured, external factors began to have an effect on the way the organization and its programs were operated. An insurance crisis, with skyrocketing premiums, made all park and recreation agencies look at their costs and coverage. This encouraged the creation of risk management pools. While SEASPAR was not among the first to join such a pool, it monitored the situation and joined the Park District Risk Management Agency in June of 1992. This was not only a change in insurance coverage, but a comprehensive program of risk assessment, risk prevention and management. For its first evaluation, SEASPAR worked hard to achieve a superior status for our loss control program. Over the next two years, improvements to the risk management program earned SEASPAR the ranking of Excellent-Level A. Based on these evaluations, SEASPAR was awarded the supreme status of Accredited, while also distinguishing itself by having the highest final rating (99.58%) of all park and recreation agencies in the pool. SEASPAR has maintained continuous accreditation since that time.
In June of 1988, the Downers Grove Park District informed SEASPAR of the availability of a house, with more rooms and storage space that could be considered for offices. The need for additional space was acute and the staff and Board began preparations for the move. After planning and measuring, painting and carpeting, the new offices were ready. On March 26, 1989, SEASPAR moved to 6000 South Main Street in Downers Grove. While the staff initially felt lost in its considerably larger quarters, they quickly adapted to the larger confines and filled the space! As a result, designed office and programming space to be built in conjunction with the Downers Grove Park District Recreation Center. The new facility was funded through Member Initiative Funds made available by local state legislators, a foundation, and individual donors. A donor wall in the foyer lists those who contributed to provide SEASPAR a permanent home. It was a major accomplishment to raise over $900,000 for the facility. The investment made by these donors continues to benefit the organization. By no longer paying rent, the organization saves over $30,000 per year, plus additional savings in utilities costs.
The park district and SEASPAR hosted grand opening on March 9, 2003, SEASPAR’s 27th anniversary, for the community to see the new amenities. Another tribute to SEASPAR’s community support was the donation of furnishings by a participant’s family and a local corporation.
Inclusion and the Americans with Disabilities Act have had a profound impact on SEASPAR and the delivery of recreation services to people with disabilities in its member entities. Records indicate that SEASPAR’s first meetings about including children with disabilities in general programs were held in 1984. At this time, the practice was relatively limited in scope to those with minimal disabilities. A national trend toward the inclusion of all children with disabilities developed during the late 1980s. A proactive Board and staff began to prepare SEASPAR and its member entities for inclusion services to accommodate all who chose to participate in the general programs offered by the member entities. In order to maintain the diversity, quantity, and quality of its existing services, staff realignment and extensive inclusion training was necessary. Today, SEASPAR provides direct staffing to support the inclusion of individuals in its member entities’ programs. Technical assistance and training for park and recreation staff is provided to successfully provide inclusive programming.
Many people have contributed to SEASPAR in many ways. The following have represented their community on the SEASPAR Board.
Clarendon Hills - Mark Purcell, Don Scheltens, Larry Henry, Betty Krupp, and Madhu Kamath, Kathy Forzley, and Steve Thomas
Darien - Steve Patterson, Steve Grimes, Kerry Hays, Scott Nerger, Roy Cripe, and Stephanie Gurgone
Downers Grove - William F. Sherman, Jr., Mary Anne E. Bokholdt, Jerry Yoksoulian, Board
Members; Ned F. Bell and Deborah Utecht, Treasurers
Indian Head Park - Al Krisciunas, Dorinne Schiffman, Hunter Glasscock, Robert Singleton,
Richard Scalise, and Joan Pieri.
Lisle - Hank Van Kampen, Julian Gorden, Tom Frey, Debbie Granat, and Dan Garvey
LaGrange - Tom Kigin, Robert Neuneker, Tom Kruse, Steve Patterson, Kevin Shields, Matthew Ellman and Jo Ann Lodine
LaGrange Park - Elaine Layden, Melvin Krejci, Ray Wielgos, John Hecker, and Ron Lorenzo
Westmont - Joe Schultz, Joe Long, and Ron Gunter
Western Springs - Anne M. Shannon, Pam Harris, Ann Weithers, and Ray Jasica
Woodridge - Linda Himes, Leon Kipp, Keith Frankland, Mike Adams
SEASPAR has attracted a staff that is dedicated to serving the community. SEASPAR employs more than 150 people each year. These individuals, along with the current full-time staff are responsible for the day-to-day operation of the agency. SEASPAR is proud to note that the full-time recreation staff are all certified as Certified Park and Recreation Professionals and/or Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists.
SEASPAR has provided a training ground for future professionals in the field of therapeutic recreation. Since the fieldwork and internship program was developed in 1976, 66 students have applied their academic preparation to the real world of programming. Three of the current staff completed their fieldwork or internship with the organization. Seven former practicum students still work with SEASPAR in a part-time or volunteer capacity. At least ten former students are working in the special recreation field.
In its 30 year history, SEASPAR has conducted 10,000 programs, served 5,000 day campers, flown 854 people in an accessible hot air balloon, produced 95 seasonal brochures, served 108,000 participants in its programs, and provided 1.75 million service hours.
A party at Ty Warner Park in Westmont celebrated the first 30 years of SEASPAR’s history. More than 400 people attended the festive event that featured games, food, and live entertainment. True to the past, the community supported the event in the form of sponsorships which assisted SEASPAR in providing the event at no cost to the guests. Sponsors for this event were: Uncle Bub’s, the Bert Cattoni Band, NECA & IBEW Local #134, MidAmerica Bank, Culver’s of Downers Grove, Senator Kirk Dillard, Downers Grove National Bank, Family and Friends of Fred Myczek, Suburban Door Check and Lock Service, Inc., Precision Brand Products, Inc., and Titan Print Solutions, Inc.
SEASPAR’s story and history continue each day and at every program. While SEASPAR is proud of its history and its strong community support and foundation, it looks toward the future, poised for progress. May the future be as exciting and eventful as the past!