It’s hard to imagine Batavia without a park district, but it was only 50 years ago that residents chose to band together for major community improvement and voted to create the Batavia Park District on Oct. 21, 1969. A Park and Recreation Committee, through the city of Batavia, had previously existed, but the demand for more recreational programs and open park space was growing in the bustling community.
Flashback to 1969, Fermilab had just recently opened its doors in Batavia and it marked major historical milestones such as the Moon Landing, Woodstock, and the first internet, called the ARPNET. 1969 was the year that Jackie DeShannon, singer/songwriter, released an album “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” that sold over 1 million copies and was awarded a gold disc. DeShannon attended Batavia High School from 1955-1957. Regardless, it was a year of progress.
Upon recommendation from Reverend Samuel Blackard, Chairman of the Recreation Committee, a study was conducted by the University Of Illinois Department of Recreation on the feasibly of the creation of a park district. The results showed a strong indication for the need for a formal district and thus, a fall referendum was held in October of 1969.
The park district concept won by a vote of 615 to 388.
I recently sat down with two members of the original Park Board, Jim Anderson, and Eldon Frydendall, both of whom still reside in Batavia. Jim served on the board from 1969 through 1975, while Eldon served until 1979. Mary Snow, C.C. McCune, and Donna Dallesasse were also on the first board that was elected the same day as the referendum.
“Originally when we formed the park district, it was an opportunity to achieve something we had never done before and to improve what had already begun,” said Jim Anderson. “When you form a new taxing body, it's important to not forget its original purpose. In general, people were very in favor of forming the park district.”
“We’re very fortunate in having the open space we have around us here in Batavia,” stated Eldon. “Even now, I probably spend most of my time at the Riverwalk and surrounding trails.”
“Memorial Field was what we grew up with, everything happened there from fireworks to high school athletics,” Jim commented fondly.
Memorial Park continues to be one of the most popular community parks in Batavia to this day. We’ve come a long way since the inception. The Civic Center and the Eastside Community Center are host to many programs, events, and administrative staff. The Batavia Park District now offers nearly 2,000 programs annually, hosts over 40 special events, and serves roughly 95,000 people across 400 acres of park space.
The Batavia Park District will be formally celebrating the milestone with a 50th Anniversary Gala on Nov. 2 in Shannon Hall. The public is invited to purchase tickets for a night full of dancing, music, and memories. On Oct. 21, there will also be free cake at both the Eastside Community Center and Civic Center (while supplies last) to celebrate the district’s official 50th birthday.
As we reflect and celebrate the past 50 years, I can’t help but wonder what the next 50 years will bring for the Batavia community.