DANVILLE – Though the AMBUCS Playground for Everyone opened in 2001, Bob Richard's work on the 30,000-square-foot, universally accessible structure in Winter Park did not end.
The playground co-chairman helped add an open-air pavilion and other amenities to draw more families to the park. Then he and co-chairs Bill Fulton and his nephew, Bill Fulton, put their knowledge of building playgrounds and desire to help others into two more projects – AMBUCS Independence Playground, which opened in Lincoln Park in 2004, and AMBUCS Sprayground for Everyone that's in the works for Garfield Park.
For those efforts and others, Richard was named AMBUCS First Citizen this year. He is the 74th recipient.
"Bob has a great love for the community," said the elder Fulton, one of several who nominated the Danville police deputy director. "Whether it's as a police officer or a volunteer, I think he wakes up ... thinking, 'What can I do to make this a better place to live?'"
The AMBUCS national service club is dedicated to creating opportunities for independence for people with disabilities, especially children. Each year, the Danville chapter gives its First Citizen award to a local person who has contributed significantly to the community, personally or professionally.
Richard was selected from eight candidates, said Donna Carlton-Vish, an AMBUCS past president and First Citizen committee chairwoman.
"He never stops volunteering," she said. "He may be wearing a different hat each time. He has been seen as a painter, a server at Red Lobster, a host at the Hegeler Home with the diabetes walk or even ... Santa Claus."
Richard, who will turn 54 this month, is a First Illinois Credit Union, Renaissance Danville and Provena United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation board member, Festival of Trees steering committee member and the Polar Express chairman.
When he joined AMBUCS in 1989, he had no idea what it was. But he grew to like its members and mission.
"You don't just write a check. You work on local projects, and you're expected to be there and be involved with the people you serve," said Richard, who became his club's president in 1998. He was named AMBUCS National Project Manager in 2000, and served for two years on the National AmBility Board, which promotes various mobility projects.
The Fultons asked Richard to help spearhead the first playground project after they started researching the idea. After teaming up with nonprofit Boundless Playgrounds in Connecticut, they raised more than $400,000 in money and services to build a one that was twice the size of the original plan.
"He doesn't stop when the construction is over," said Steve Lane, Danville's parks and public property superintendent. "He continually looks for ways to improve on what's already built, monitors the sites and helps maintain them. ... He's become a playground expert, and we've learned so much from him."
In his nominating letter, Public Works Director Doug Ahrens said the playgrounds have made the parks a "premier" destination for families.
"Bob's ability to excite others, coordinate activities and keep everyone focused on the goal was instrumental in these community projects being completed," Ahrens added.
Julius W. Hegeler II came to admire Richard's work ethic during the playground projects. He said he didn't hesitate to open the Hegeler Home to the public for a diabetes fundraiser or to sponsor the Festival of Trees' Polar Express event for children, based on the book, which Richard spearheaded two years ago.
"Where he found the time to do all of these projects is beyond me. He works his tail off," said Hegeler, who got the award in 2002. He said giving it to Richard is "long overdue."
Richard was surprised and humbled.
"You aren't expecting something like that," he said. "But these accomplishments weren't solo projects. It was a collaboration of many people. Whether it's been professionally or community work, I've been very blessed to have been working with a lot of dedicated people."
First Citizens Banquet
The AMBUCS First Citizens Banquet honoring Bob Richard will be April 23 at the Days Inn, 77 N. Vermilion St.
A cash bar and reception will begin at 6 p.m. Dinner will follow at 6:30 p.m.
Tickets are $20 apiece and are available at the door.
Please call 446-7170 to leave your name and number of people in your party for a reservation.