Long career in creating fun for others, Glenview parks director wins lifetime achievement award
Chuck Balling, executive director of the Glenview Park District, was awarded the 2013 Robert Artz Lifetime Achievement Award from Illinois Park and Recreation Association. Balling is shown on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, at Wagner Farm in Glenview. | Buzz Orr
Updated: March 8, 2013 6:11AM
GLENVIEW — Growing up in Chicago’s Marquette Park, Chuck Balling had indications he might be good someday at drumming up interest in outdoor recreation.
“I found myself organizing pick-up games with my neighborhood friends. We used the parks a lot before all this programming started in park districts,” said Balling, executive director of the Glenview Park District.
“My Dad was an avid gardener, too, and had beautiful flower gardens all over.”
Physical and outdoor activities were in his future, as Balling went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Park & Recreation from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston.
“But my Dad thought I was joking when I told him what I wanted to study in college. I’m glad I went into recreation,” said Balling, who on Jan. 28 received the 2013 Robert Artz Lifetime Achievement Award in Chicago from the Illinois Parks & Recreation Association.
Headquartered in La Grange, the association has 2,100 members.
The accolade recognizes long-term efforts in leadership, promoting parks and recreation in the community and good relationships with employees, residents, park board members and governments.
Gregg Petry, executive director of the Waukegan Park District for 25 years, was on the Artz Lifetime Achievement Award’s selection committee.
Petry won the award in 2012.
“Chuck’s main attribute is his longevity in the field and he’s a doer with good success, as well as his teaching efforts at conference workshops and helping other districts with strategic planning,” Petry said.
“And he tells it like it is. I’ve known him for 35 years.”
Balling has conducted workshops at the Athletic Business Conference, Western Revenue Sources Management School, International Aquatic School, National Recreation and Park Association Marketing School.
Also, he was one of three Americans invited to make presentations at the International Marketing Conference for Health and Fitness Managers in Moscow.
When he was hired in 2005, Glenview Park Board members wanted major upgrades in facilities and an enhanced recreation experience.
“A priority was to meet the residents’ needs. We were really focused on that. It’s been the quality of people, staff and volunteers here that made the difference,” said Balling, who oversees 105 full-time employees.
As executive director, he led the development of Community Park West, a 95-acre multi-use park that included a $750,000 donation from Glenview Youth Baseball Association for constructing baseball fields. He also worked with Glenview officials in transferring to the park district the Kent Fuller Air Station Prairie/ Tyner Center and the 90-acre Gallery Park, both to promote environmental education, recreation and open space preservation.
For strategic planning, every three years the park district surveys the community.
“We take that research to set plans for capital improvements and moving the park district forward.
“From the surveys, we’ve learned many people here want open spaces, while protecting the environment. They like walkways and bike paths, such as Gallery Park,” he explained.
Balling said Wagner Farm has received high public praise, especially the Farmer’s Market and new community garden plots.
In 2012, the park district and Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association in Northbrook jointly funded with their foundations the Willow Park Field House in Glenview, a recreation facility for children and adults with disabilities.
The $447,000 building serves people in Glenview, Deerfield, Glencoe, Highland Park, Highwood, Kenilworth, Lake Bluff, Lake Forest, Northbrook, Northfield, Riverwoods, Wilmette and Winnetka.
Glenview resident John Thissen said his disabled daughter, Maeve, takes up to four classes a year at Willow Park, 2600 Greenwood Road.
“Other park districts don’t have a dedicated facility for special needs residents. She’s there all the time during summer, learning a craft or skill for school,” Thissen said.
Balling initiated and funded a scholarship for special needs participants in Northern Suburban Special Recreation Association programs.
His brother, Gary Balling, retired in 2012 as executive director of the Park District of Oak Park.
“He is my younger brother and was a park director before me, but he has been a wonderful role model and mentor to me throughout my career,” Balling said.
Before joining Glenview Park District, Chuck Balling was executive director for the Gurnee Park District for 10 years.
Before then, Balling held positions at the Homewood-Flossmoor, Elmhurst and Naperville park districts.
Balling spoke openly about the June 15, 2012, drowning of Vicente Cardenas at Roosevelt Pool, owned and staffed by Glenview Park District.
The four-year-old was face down in 5 feet of water before lifeguards pulled him out during a summer camp swim.
On Aug. 28, Glenview police ended an investigation by filing no charges.
“During good times and challenging times, you must be responsive to the community,” he said.
“We have a close knit team here that’s committed to public service, and we have an open door policy that reassures Glenview people we do the best we can.
Last summer, we took it one week at a time and kept moving forward.”