CHAMPAIGN — Continuity was the overriding theme Monday night as Champaign Park District board members selected longtime recreation director Joe DeLuce as the agency's next executive director.
He'll take over control of the park district beginning Jan. 1. Retiring director Bobbie Herakovich announced earlier this year that her last day would be Dec. 31 after 12 years in charge.
DeLuce was selected Monday night after park commissioners spent a couple months searching for Herakovich's successor. The district got 25 applications from five different states, board President Joseph Petry said. DeLuce was one of four finalists, and the board made its final decision Monday night.
"The first thing I do is keep everything going," DeLuce said. "Make sure that we continue what we're doing, programs and events and preparing our facilities. Then I've got to set up my team."
He said the district is losing a good listener in Herakovich, but DeLuce said one of his priorities will be building partnerships with community groups and listening to the public, too.
"I think it will be very important to go out there and talk to the people and see what we can do better," DeLuce said.
He thinks refreshing an old inventory of park facilities is one thing the district might be able to do better, he said, but it is on a good track as it builds a new Leonhard Recreation Center.
The quality he brings to the park district: "I really take a lot of pride in getting things done, making things happen," he said. He said he hopes also to bring a level of creativity to the agency.
DeLuce has 33 years of experience in parks and recreation. He has spent the past 16 years at the Champaign Park District as director of recreation and, since September, deputy director of the district.
DeLuce previously worked as executive director of the Macon County, Ga., sports commission and the director of parks and recreation in Hallandale, Fla. He has a master's degree in parks and recreation administration from the University of Illinois.
Petry said officials think the park district is doing well and has a strong tradition that continued under Herakovich's leadership. He thinks that will continue under DeLuce, and Petry expects to see "familiar kinds of things that we've done in the past."
"Joe's been a part of that," Petry said. "I think the communication skills, the leadership skills, his willingness and ability to collaborate with other entities — whether that's government bodies or private sector — that's hard, and that's something we really try to do well at the park district. His proven ability to do that and all those things was key."
DeLuce will be only the fourth executive director in the park district's history, as it used to be folded into city government. Before Herakovich, Robert Toalson ran the agency for 33 years.
"Bobbie's been great," Petry said. "She successfully filled Bob Toalson's shoes, and that's no small feat."