Death Notices, Local, Obituaries, Park Forest

Long-serving Rec. & Parks Director John Joyce Dies at 77

John Joyce. (Photo: Family on Facebook)
John Joyce. (Photo: Family on Facebook)

Park Forest, IL-(ENEWSPF)- He was such a long-serving part of village government that it seemed that John Joyce would always be there. John began his 39-year tenure with the Village of Park Forest at 28, beginning and ending his journey as Director.

Former Recreation and Parks Director John Joyce died on January 12 at 77. Village Manager Tom Mick announced Mr. Joyce’s passing. Mr. Mick said, in speaking with John’s widow Robin and their son Eric, there were no immediate plans for a wake and funeral service. The family will be planning a memorial service for when the weather gets warmer, perhaps when the trees Director Joyce cared for so diligently in his life have bloomed again.

Mr. Mick described John Joyce as a “legend in the Park Forest community and the Village of Park Forest organization.”

Indeed he was.

My first contact with John Joyce was not through his position as a Director in Park Forest. Rather it was through his work with Barbara Moore at NCBI: The National Coalition Building Institute. Together, Barbara and John gave workshops to organizations on Diversity with a capital “D,” including anti-racism, anti-sexism, and embracing people of all hues and backgrounds, celebrating our similarities in gender, national origin, sexual orientation, and more. They provided in-depth training on diversity, inclusion, and equity long before “DEI” was a common acronym.

John Joyce was inducted into the Park Forest Hall of Fame in 2013. His nomination for the Hall of Fame in 2012 by Village Manager Tom Mick included his many contributions through the years.

Hall of Fame Nomination for John Joyce
December 2012

My nomination for possible induction into the Park Forest Hall of Fame is Village of Park Forest Director of Recreation and Parks John Joyce. The Historical Society’s nomination form notes that eligibility for Hall of Fame consideration will be based on the nominee’s “substantial, beneficial and consistent contributions to the well-being of Park Forest over a considerable span of time.” I believe what follows is in accordance with the Society’s criterion.

At the end of 2012, John Joyce’s duties as Director of Recreation and Parks will total more than 39 years of dedicated public service to Park Forest and the region. His career in servicing Park Forest began back in September 1973. John did not work his way up the ranks to Director. Rather, he jumped into a key management role at the ripe old age of 28! Over the years, he worked diligently to oversee a growing slate of recreational amenities that matches, and in most cases exceeds, anything offered by any other community in Illinois of similar size to Park Forest. The slate of recreational options includes more than 22 parks, several facilities, and hundreds of acres of open space. A career spanning five decades (70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and so on . . .) of dedicated public service is undoubtedly substantial.

A summary of John’s consistent contributions to the well-being of Park Forest includes the 1970’s with the development of a world-class road racing event (the Park Forest Scenic 10), the Recreation and Parks Department assuming oversight of Freedom Hall, which stood for many years as the only municipally-operated cultural arts venue in the south suburbs. It was also in this decade that the Village embarked upon building out its expanse of parks and leisure amenities with such venues as the pavilions at Central Park and Somonauk Park. The ’70s were when Park Forest became a charter member of the South Suburban Special Recreation Association, which today comprises 11 south suburban communities jointly providing year-round recreational outlets for individuals with disabilities or special needs. Finally, it was in this decade that a 1860’s-vintage facility was converted, and a nearly 1,000-acre plot of land was officially set aside with the Thorn Creek Nature Preserve being officially dedicated as a result of the Village’s partnership with the Will County Forest Preserve and other regional agencies.

John Joyce and Barbara Moore give a NCBI workshop.
John Joyce and Barbara Moore give an NCBI workshop. (Photo: NCBI)

In the 1980s, Recreation and Parks assumed ownership and operation of the Park Forest Tennis & Health Club and the Park Forest Aqua Center. On a family level, rumor has it that John was also an active parent and coach in the Park Forest Youth Baseball leagues. In the 1990s, the Village ventured into owning and operating an executive golf course at Hidden Meadows. Partnerships with outside agencies such as Will County and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources were forged in developing the Old Plank Road Trail Commission. The first planning steps were taken toward the Central Park Wetlands Restoration and Preservation Project becoming a reality.

Over the course of many years, a viable parks system needs to be maintained and change with the times and needs of its community. The first decade of the 21st century included an evolution of little-used tennis courts into highly utilized skateboard parks at Forest Trail Middle School and Indiana School and the development of the Logan Park pavilion along the Old Plank Road Trail. Substantial overhaul projects were carried out in the Manilow Theater at Freedom Hall. An extensive redevelopment of the Park Forest Aqua Center was carried out, including creating the Central Park Wetlands Discovery Center and various environmentally-conscious projects and displays. In the current decade, John’s legacy of diligent public service continued with the advent of the Park Forest Bark District and the Rail Fan Park, becoming the latest creations of recreational enjoyment for Park Foresters and the region.

With the unfolding mentioned above over an extended period, the Department of Recreation & Parks has also been the maintenance conduit that supports and keeps Village facilities operational such as Village Hall, the Police Station, and the Fire Station. Of particular note, John and his staff were the project managers when a new Fire Station was built in 2003 and in 2007 when the lower level of Village Hall was reconstructed as the new home for the Park Forest Health Department.

In what is noted above, I have had firsthand knowledge of only the last 15 years of John’s diligence. The first two and half decades of his accomplishments are somewhat anecdotal in that I have gleaned the details from Village publications, other Village Officials, and the citizens of our community. That being noted, much of what I have read, or heard from others, meshes with what I have witnessed personally: John’s efforts have been tireless in serving the residents of Park Forest.

A final point of reference in this nomination is John’s dedication as a Park Forester. After moving to Park Forest from Minnesota in the early ’70s, he and his wife, Robin, raised their children (Sarah and Eric) while living in the community. As such, his work life, leisure time, and day-to-day family life experiences took place in and amongst the citizens he worked so hard to serve. Living life in this manner built numerous relationships at school functions, the Central Park ball fields, the tennis courts, etc.

In closing, I believe John Joyce’s distinguished career has been to the benefit of generations of Park Foresters. The results of his work not only served the past and the present but long into the future. It is my sincere hope that the Nomination Committee will find merit in what is noted above and agree that John Joyce’s legacy is worthy of induction into the Park Forest Hall of Fame.

Thank you, John Joyce

And the nominating committee indeed accepted John Joyce to the Park Forest Hall of Fame.

We appreciate a life lived in service to his family and our community.

We will provide service information when it becomes available. Today, we celebrate the passing of a great man and offer our heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.