Bonnie Noble

Executive Director, Peoria Park District
Photography by Kira Kwon

A dedicated community leader and long-time steward of Illinois’ largest park district

Raised in River Forest, Illinois, I attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I received a Bachelor of Science degree in recreation and park administration. After graduation, I was employed as an editor for the University of Illinois Graduate College.

My husband, Kent, and I are blessed with three daughters, Cindy Noble of Chicago, Kristen LaHood of Dunlap, and Jamie Hogan of Peoria, as well as five cherished grandsons, all of whom, thankfully, live within 10 minutes of our home. We often joke that our daughters provided us with a boys basketball team, but without a cheerleader!

My husband and I moved to Peoria in 1968. I was first elected a trustee of the Peoria Park District in 1973, and was elected president of the Park District Board of Trustees in 1979. I served in that capacity until 1992, when I became executive director. Prior to joining the District’s professional staff, I was employed as director of the Heartland Water Resources Council until 1992.

During my tenure as executive director, the District was fortunate to receive the 1994, 2001 and 2010 National Gold Medal Awards for excellence in park and recreation management, and accreditation as one of the first Illinois Distinguished Park Districts. The District was named Employer of the Year by the AAIM Employers’ Association in 2009. I have been honored to be recognized with the following awards: 2004 C.H.O.I.C.E.S. Sheriff Charles Schofield Award for Community Outreach, 2002 Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce Athena Award, Ray A. Newman Tri-County Citizen of the Year Award, African-American Hall of Fame Museum Community Leadership Award, Peoria Jaycees Memorial Good Government Award, and the annual Tri-County Sports Award.

A member of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) since 1973, I have served as trustee and parliamentarian for the national Board of Trustees, chair of the NPRA Constitution and Bylaws Committee, secretary/treasurer of the NRPA Council of Affiliated Presidents, and president of the Illinois Association of Park Districts. I was appointed by the governor to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Advisory Board, serving as a board member and chair. In 2004, I was honored to be inducted as a fellow into the American Academy for Parks and Recreation, a national group limited to 125 practicing professionals.

Please list and reflect upon your major accomplishments of 2013.
I will be forever grateful to the Peoria Park District and its Board of Trustees for their faith in me. I was humbled to have the trustees name our new administrative offices in Lakeview Park the Bonnie W. Noble Center for Park District Administration.

Working as a team of Park District staff, we were able to accomplish several significant projects in 2013, including:

  • Renovating the historic cannon wall in Glen Oak Park
  • Renovating the historic World War I monument in lower Grandview Drive Park
  • The groundbreaking and partial completion of the Rotary Adventure Grove in Glen Oak Park
  • The acquisition of a gift of the former YWCA building targeted to serve as the Lakeview Park Recreation Center
  • Renovating the former Lakeview Museum building to include the new Park District administrative offices and classrooms
  • Overseeing construction of the hiking/biking trail from Peoria Heights Library to Springdale Cemetery Active involvement in the Power of Play campaign to build the Peoria PlayHouse Children’s Museum in Glen Oak Park (Note: More than 81 percent of the funding has been raised!)
  • The construction of a bridge over Knoxville Avenue providing the link connecting the north and south segments of the hiking/biking trail
  • The receipt of grants for the new Tawny Oaks Interpretive Center, the entrance to our 1,000-acre Singing Woods Nature Preserve; land acquisition of the Mossville soccer complex; and further development of the hiking/biking trail.

In August, I reached an exciting personal milestone: celebrating my husband’s and my 50th wedding anniversary in Chicago with our family.

What is your leadership philosophy?
To create a solid team culture in which good people can support one another and reach decisions as a group efficiently and harmoniously. I have a dedicated staff and an extremely supportive Board of Trustees under the leadership of our president, Tim Cassidy, who makes this philosophy a reality.

What do you consider to have been the most pivotal point in your career?
My election as a Peoria Park District board trustee in 1973. Serving in this capacity was a wonderful avocation, which eventually led me to my vocation, serving as executive director of the Peoria Park District.

In your opinion, what is the greatest struggle working women face today?
Although not only a women’s issue, I believe it is vitally important that workers fully understand their employer’s expectations and consider how they affect their own expectations regarding their personal life. If they want to be successful, they need to fit future choices, however large or small, into this framework.

For women, I believe that the age-old challenge of this balancing of one’s professional and personal lives is, in some ways, more difficult in today’s society than it was in the past. Although the technology and flexibility allowed women today has enhanced our lives so much, it has somewhat blurred the lines between those lives. The technology that makes us available around the clock frequently takes us away from focusing on family during time off work, while flexibility in the workplace itself can often distract us from our professional role.

What is your secret to maintaining a balance between your work and personal life?
There is no one “secret,” other than a balance requires flexibility both in the job and in my personal life. Because the Peoria Park District is so comprehensive and interacts with so many diverse segments of the community, this job doesn’t fit into the normal workday mold. The job requires my total attention, even when I am not “at work”, but it is also necessary to set aside times to focus as attentively on our family. For example, although I often work well into the evening during the week, my husband and I have a set routine that we follow spending time together and with our family on the weekends. My position may have caused me to miss a basketball game or a swim meet when my daughters were younger, but it has, by the same token, allowed my children to be included in some unique experiences that they might not have been otherwise. I am grateful for the understanding and support of my family; my husband, my daughters and their families support me continuously. When life gets too hectic, I “leave this world” and watch science fiction—especially Battlestar Galactica!

What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Persevering, cheerful and thankful. I think the following song lyrics, which I’ve never forgotten, sum it up best:
No man is an island,
No man stands alone,
Each man’s’ joy is joy to me,
Each man’s grief is my own.
We need one another, so I will defend,
Each man as my brother, each man as my friend.

What is one goal you hope to accomplish in your lifetime?
Leaving the Peoria Park District in the best possible position to serve the community in a challenging future.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Thank you for including me in this perspective. Peoria is a great community in which to live and thrive, and our family is fortunate to be a part of it. iBi

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