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Changing of the Park Board: Welcome and Farewell

On May 11, Bobby Carlsen and Mike King began their 4-year terms as Naperville Park District Commissioners, while Gerry Heide and Kirsten Young stepped down from their 9 and 8 years of service, respectively.

Commissioners Bobby Carlsen and Mike King

Meet Our New Commissioners

Bobby Carlsen

Bobby Carlsen was born and raised in Naperville and he and his wife also chose to settle here. “Naperville has always been home and when my wife and I decided to raise a family, there was only one place to consider!”

Bobby joins the Park Board with a desire to give back to the community he feels has given him so much.  

“Growing up in Naperville, I spent a lot of time in the parks. They are the best around. Naperville has been planned so well, that when visitors are here they always speak to the number and quality of our parks.”

Bobby was very involved in athletics growing up in Naperville, and then played baseball at Oklahoma State University, where he earned a BS in marketing.   Following a professional baseball career he became a self-employed commodities trader and now is a real estate agent. He believes that his most significant accomplishment so far has been spending time coaching his two sons and watching them grow as young men.

As a Naperville resident, some of Bobby’s favorite park activities include bike riding on the DuPage River Trail to Whalon Lake, playing roller hockey from time to time at DuPage River Sports Complex, and visiting Seager Park.


 DuPage River Trail at DuPage River Park

Circuit Judge Paul Fullerton administers the oath of office to Bobby Carlsen on May 11

Mike King

Mike King also grew up in Naperville and ran for Park Board as a way of giving back to his home community. “I look forward to working with the other commissioners and the staff to bring premier services and recreation activities to the citizens of Naperville.”

Mike graduated from Eastern Illinois University with a BS in Consumer Affairs and also earned an MBA from Aurora University in Leadership. He currently works as an energy efficiency program manager for Nicor Gas. His former career was in real estate as part of a family business in Naperville.

“When I was selling real estate, the second question after schools was the Park District and the activities for the family.  After showing a home and driving through the subdivision the people would always comment on the parks. I would place a high level of importance on the Naperville Park District in attracting new residents and keeping pace with the recreational needs of current residents.”


Ball field at Knoch Park

Mike enjoys coaching football and basketball and serves on the advisory board of KidsMatter. “My most significant accomplishment is coaching youth football with a great group of coaches, players and families.”

His favorite places at the Park District are Centennial Beach, Pioneer Park, Knoch Park and Burr Oak Park. He also enjoys playing golf at Springbrook Golf Course.


Circuit Judge Paul Fullerton administers the oath of office to Commissioner Mike King on May 11

Reflections from our Outgoing Commissioners

Gerry Heide was first appointed in 2008 to fill the remaining term of former Commissioner Charlie Brown. He then was elected to a 4-year term in 2009, followed by a second term in 2013. Kirsten Young was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013 for a second 4-year term. She served as vice president and president of the Board during her first term.

Outgoing Commissioners Gerry Heide and Kirsten Young

Both outgoing commissioners shared with me some thoughts about their experience as commissioners.  Here  are their responses to the questions.

Q: Looking back on your terms as Naperville Park District commissioners, what are some of the highlights for you? Any memorable stories or goals achieved that were especially important or meaningful for you? What projects were you or are you most excited about?

Gerry: We had so many great projects:  Fort Hill Activity Center, Knoch Knolls Nature Center, Seager Park and the Centennial Beach renovation stand out to me. It’s exciting to see that the Beach is such a nice place but also kept its period character. It has the charm that people like.

Reflecting on my committee involvement, I remember the long but rewarding process of seeing legislation pass in 2012 to help park districts ensure child safety. And I really enjoyed participating on the Riverwalk Commission for 4 years. You see how the Park District and City work closely together and the wealth of knowledge of the engineers and Riverwalk staff.  

I also think of the District’s intentional focus on taking care of what we have.  The park maintenance plan came out of that. And we include depreciation and funding of key assets to maximize resources.

Kirsten: It doesn’t make good television, but the Board of Commissioners' development of the Strategic Plan in 2009, followed by establishing our Core Values, and memorializing how all of our various master plans fit together were foundational to all of the improvements we were able to accomplish over the next 8 years.  The practice of consistently referencing these guidelines kept all of us committed to the same set of deliverables.

With the Park District and Board aligned in process and principle we were able to improve Seager Park, develop Nike Sports Complex, build Knoch Knolls Nature Center, offer classes at the 95th Street Center, clean up Sportsman’s Park as a location for the community to enjoy, build Fort Hill Activity Center, and create the new Central Maintenance Facility at Knoch Park.

Seager Park Interpretive Center, photo by Lambros Photography, Inc.

I am most excited about the projects that haven’t started.  I have a vision of a winter wonderland, probably at one of the golf courses, where we can take advantage of the club house for warming and refreshments.  I see us offering platform tennis and ice skating on a refrigerated ice rink.  Winters are long, even when they aren’t terribly cold.  I would like to see us do more to draw people out of their homes to activities all year round.  

What have you learned about the Park District and its role in the community?  

Gerry: I never thought the Park District was so central to the community until I became part of it. People would speak to me about the Park District all of the time. Almost all of the comments were positive. Everyone loves the Riverwalk and Fort Hill Activity Center.  People look to the Park District and to what we are doing next and they are pleased with what they see.  Realtors also speak about the Park District whenever they are describing what Naperville has to offer.

Kirsten: The Fort Hill Activity Center and our partnership with KidsMatter are evidence of the Park District’s growing role in the community.  Fort Hill provides the community with its first indoor recreation area, serving all ages from the very young to seniors, and our special needs community.  The partnership with KidsMatter grows from a recognition that ‘whole-person wellness’ is integral to the quality of life in our community.  Helping kids understand and navigate the social world we live in and helping parents lead their children in this fast paced, digital, information age are a couple of examples of how the Naperville Park District is leaning forward through its partnership with KidsMatter, to enrich our community.  I am not suggesting that we will become a mental health agency or a library, but I do think we will continue to be a gateway organization to health, just as we are a gateway organization to athletics and other activities.  We don’t offer ‘travel club’ level youth athletics, but we do give kids the opportunity to get familiar with the games, the skills, the rules, competition and team work.  We don’t host marathons, but we do offer trails.

Fort Hill Activity Center offers gymnastics for all ages

What advice would you have for the incoming commissioners and/or for anyone considering running for the Park Board in the future?

Gerry: Never try to outsmart your constituents, but be transparent. Treat taxpayer funds like they are your own. Take the word of staff about things like using equipment and let staff do their job. Our role is guidance, oversight and accountability. Acknowledge that there are many intelligent and creative people in the community and take time to listen to their insightful comments and ideas. For example, I was impressed with the thoughtful comments generated by the recent Riverwalk survey. And, when considering your role representing the Park District in the community, I would highly recommend taking a turn serving on the Riverwalk Commission.

 Naperville Riverwalk

Kirsten: The Park District leadership team is forward thinking and our team leads the industry.  But, it is still important to ask why 5 times.  There are still times we are carrying on ‘legacy ideas and practices’ and we haven’t challenged them.  With fresh eyes and less archival knowledge, you are in the best position to uncover what hasn’t been closely examined.

Thank you

Thank you to Former Commissioners Gerry Heide and Kirsten Young. The community is better because of your service. And thanks to all of our past and present commissioners!  

Get involved

Our commissioners can be contacted by email here.  The board meets twice monthly and the public is always welcome. The commissioners invite and welcome your ideas and questions.

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