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Stop and smell the roses!

As a young boy growing up in an urban environment, green space was always hard to come by, especially when our backyard looked like a vineyard and giardino that would make the Green Giant jealous.

In the front of the house, we would play “Running Bases,” or get 20 kids from the neighborhood together for “Relievio,” during which we would play hide and seek with a jail set up on my stoop, and hope that the other team didn’t yell “Olly Olly Oxen Free Free Free” before the game would be called due to darkness.

So when my parents wanted to take us on a day vacation, we would travel “all the way” to South Berwyn and enjoy the sprawling 17 acres of Proksa Park, which was nestled right in the heart of a wonderful neighborhood. As my parents would stroll along the park paths or visit with a cousin across the street, we would take over the playground or play football or baseball, or catch tadpoles in the pond. All the while, my parents knew we were safe and secure running around like pazzo ragazzos.

Proksa Park was and still is one of the hidden jewels of our community. (Just to set the record straight, we North Berwynites still pronounce it PROS-KA!)

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Growing up in Berwyn, Proksa was always a backdrop for prom and wedding pictures, so it was no wonder why I chose to purchase my home near the park. As I would utilize the amenities of Proksa Park, I felt it was my duty as a good neighbor to become involved with the Park District and give back to my community by running for commissioner. I quickly learned that the Berwyn Park District was more than just “Proska,” and being a commissioner was a lot more than just a walk in the park …

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The Berwyn Park District was created by referendum in 1920 as an autonomous governmental body, and it has a rich history of preservation and service. Major accomplishments since the turn of the century have resulted in well-maintained and equipped parks, a strong security presence, technology enhancements, new and improved facilities, and a much greater focus on recreation service provision.

The past decade has witnessed the growth and development of a professionally staffed recreation division with comprehensive year-around programming that includes a regionally recognized early childhood recreation services. A series of community-wide special events contribute significantly to a sense of community.

The Berwyn Park District currently maintains 12 properties that include passive parks, community gardens, enhanced playgrounds, lighted softball and synthetic turf soccer fields, tennis courts, a skate park and a children’s water park.

The acquisition of Liberty Cultural Center (the former Sokol Club) represents a significant effort to preserve a local institution and enhance the overall delivery of leisure services to Berwyn Park District residents, particularly in the cultural and performing arts. Initial renovation has taken place and ambitious plans were established for further development of this community asset.

We are also in the process of creating Berwyn’s first Dog Park, where even my pooch can hang out.

I’m particularly proud of how 200 community resident volunteers — including fellow IACOB members, my firefighter family and our Brothers in Blue — turned out on Build a Park in a Day in September of 2011 to demolish an outdated playground in cooperation with KaBoom! Kool-Aid, the city of Berwyn and the Berwyn Development Corporation. The following are before and after pictures.

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

In January of 2012, I had the pleasure of cooking for a sold-out crowd of 225 people at our Positively Pasta fundraiser, where our staff donated all their time to work the event, commissioners and staff members hit the pavement to secure some great auction items, and the support from our residents and business owners allowed us to raise a record amount of money for our scholarship fund.

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

(Photo courtesy of Mel Walaszek/Fan Fair Foto)

I would like to take a moment to congratulate one of my fellow commissioners, Mr. Edward Karasek, for serving unselfishly on the Berwyn Park District for the past 45 years. Ed is the longest serving commissioner in Illinois and was recognized with one of the Illinois Association of Park District’s highest honors, the Commissioner of the Year Award, at the organization’s annual awards luncheon on Jan. 27 at the Hyatt Regency-Chicago. Ed has been a great role model and mentor to all who know him.

Our Mission at the Park District is to enrich the quality of life of the community by providing superior parks, facilities and recreational services in a fiscally responsible manner. Our vision is to be viewed by the citizens of Berwyn as a valued investment in their daily lives by providing safe, enjoyable, attractive and environmentally responsible parks and facilities with diverse programs and efficient and responsive services.

So the next time you want to go for a leisurely stroll and your children want to run around like pazzo ragazzos, come check out the Berwyn Park District. The experience may even inspire you to move to the neighborhood. You can see a full list of our classes and programs at www.berwynparks.org.

About Mario Manfredini

Mario Manfredini is a lifelong Berwyn resident who grew up in the “Twin Cities” of Berwyn and Cicero, cherishing his childhood memories and enjoying everything that Berwyn has to offer today. You might spot Mario working in the neighborhoods as a battalion chief for the Berwyn Fire Department, keeping Berwyn active as president of the Berwyn Park District or volunteering in many capacities with the Italian American Civic Organization of Berwyn. He served on the board of IACOB for 20 years and the board the Berwyn Fire Fighters Union Local 506 for 12 years.

One comment

  1.   I can do it sir!!!