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Thank you, Chuck Papanos!

Chuck Papanos, North Parks and Riverwalk Operations Manager, is retiring on April 17, 2020, and we couldn’t let the coronavirus pandemic steal the opportunity to celebrate his accomplishments and wish him well. He came to the Naperville Park District almost exactly 19 years ago and has poured his energy, dedication and passion into caring for the beloved Riverwalk, Centennial Beach, and many favorite community parks on the north side of the city. 
Chuck came to the District as a park specialist in April 2001 with a BS in Ornamental Horticulture from the University of Connecticut and a wide variety of work experience. According to Andrea Coates, who worked in the Parks Department in 2001 when they hired Chuck, everyone wanted him to come work for the District, because they recognized that he had knowledge about so many things. Within two years, Chuck was promoted to oversee the Riverwalk and North Parks Divisions. 

Andrea went on to become facility manager of Centennial Beach, and had the opportunity to work alongside Chuck as they prepared the Beach for opening each year and coordinated with others during special events and major renovations.

“I admire Chuck,” said Andrea. “Not only for his knowledge, but he is always accessible to staff and cares so much about people, relationships and the community. He was at every event, even though he was not required to be there. I think that’s what sets him apart: he is a genuine, caring person.”
One favorite memory that Andrea recalls is the time that she and Chuck arrived at Centennial Beach at 5:00 a.m. to open the gates for the Sprint Triathlon, hosted annually at Centennial Beach in August.  On this quiet morning before the crowds arrived, Chuck suddenly told Andrea not to move, but to stay quiet. “And there, right in front of us, was a family of skunks,” said Andrea. “They were so close to us, and of course we worried about getting sprayed, but for the skunks, it was just a normal day and they were heading back to bed. I so appreciated that Chuck was there. This was typical for him, to lend his support for staff and the community at these events, just in case we might need extra zip ties or encounter a family of skunks.”

Centennial Beach
Chuck knew how to mobilize his staff in times of urgent need, and was always there with them. Executive Director Ray McGury recalls the time when he first met Chuck, which was in the midst of a flood event:
“It was the morning of Sunday, September 14th, 2008 and Naperville was experiencing a 3 day period of heavy rain that totaled over 7" with massive flooding throughout the community. I was due to start the very next day as Naperville Park District's new executive director when my cell phone rang and Park Board Commissioner Kristen Jungles let me know that I might want to start a day early and come down to Centennial Beach where North Parks staff as well as other District personnel were sandbagging the perimeter of the Administration Building. There was a real possibility that the building would flood due to Centennial Beach breaching its banks and running up to the Riverwalk pavers adjacent to the building.  
(This photo shows a similar situation in spring 2013)
“As my youngest son and I arrived to jump in and help, I immediately noticed that one Park District employee seemed to have control of the situation at hand.  I was in the business of knowing who to go to in stressful moments since I was coming from 30 years as a police officer. I was real good at tasking the right police officers for the job when things were dicey.  My streak didn't end that Sunday because that person was Chuck Papanos. I introduced myself to Chuck and he shook my hand and said "WOW...are all your first days on the job like this?" As I sandbagged for hours with Chuck, he made me feel like I'd been with the Park District for years. Little did I know how powerful that message of acceptance from Chuck was at that time. I'm happy for my friend Chuck and hope he enjoys many years of retirement. I also hope he comes back with that ear-to-ear smile of his, not only to visit us but also to visit the place he treated like his own backyard—the Naperville Riverwalk.”

Lilacs blooming along the Riverwalk in May
Chuck has represented the Park District in the community for major events such as Last Fling and also served on the Riverwalk Commission. Jan Erickson, Riverwalk Administrator for the City of Naperville, shared these words about Chuck:
“It seems like I’ve known Chuck Papanos forever. He was on the selection panel 14 years ago when I interviewed for the Riverwalk Administrator position. I didn’t know him from Adam but before long, we were fast friends and he was calling me Jannie, just like family. Chuck has been an indispensable partner and dedicated caretaker of the Riverwalk. He has been my mentor, my sounding board and my “go to guy” whenEVER I needed something. He is selfless and has a passionate dedication to the needs of the Riverwalk and to honoring Riverwalk donors.
He is the perfect dichotomy between a pragmatist and optimist. When given a request from a donor or the Riverwalk Commission, he will try his darndest to make it happen. On the other hand, there are times when I’ll have a wild idea and he brings me back to earth with logic and good sense. Chuck has an uncanny memory and a wealth of institutional knowledge of Naperville’s crown jewel. I will miss him more than words can say and hope he’s willing to share his home phone for those times when no one else will have the answer. I wish the very best for him in his retirement!”
Naperville Riverwalk, Autumn 2019

(L to R) Chuck Papanos, Brad Wilson and Ray McGury at the 2019 Healing Field setup at Rotary Hill

(L to R) Chuck Papanos, Tiffani Picco and Clint Burnell at the 2019 Healing Field take-down day

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