Chesterton Tribune

Porter County Park Board hires new superintendent

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Baltimore resident Walter Lenckos will be making the move to Porter County later this month to take the reigns as county parks superintendent.

The Porter County Parks and Recreation board on Thursday unanimously accepted a motion made by board member Annetta Jones to award Lenckos the position. The vote was 5-0. Board member Dave Canright was absent from the meeting Thursday.

Through a computer video screen, Lenckos accepted the position and thanked the board and the staff for their efforts during the hiring process.

“I’m very eager to meet as many people as possible and share in the vision of the Porter County Parks Department,” Lenckos told those sitting in the audience at the Porter County Administration Building.

Park board president Rich Hudson said it has been nearly six months since the board started to seek a successor for outgoing parks superintendent Ed Melendez who officially resigned on Dec. 31 last year. The board hired Valparaiso Redevelopment Commission Direc-tor Stu Sommers as a human resource consultant to facilitate the board in the hiring process.

The board was able to narrow down a selection of 45 applicants to four candidates for formal interviews. Hudson and Jones said after the meeting it was Lenckos’ positive thinking and fearless attitude towards facing challenges that gave him the edge over the other candidates.

“He’s not afraid to get his hands dirty,” Jones said. She also attributed Lenckos’ strong communication skills.

Hudson said he is excited about Lenckos’ supervisory experience in management and fundraising which were some of the qualities the board was searching for.

“We believe the new superintendent will be able to take the park system into the 21st century,” said Hudson.

Lenckos will receive the same salary and benefits as Melendez, Hudson said. In compensation for his efforts, Lenckos will be paid $46,900 annually and will be living at the Superintendent’s House at Sunset Hill Farm County Park.

Lenckos will be on hand from May 18-May 20 and then again on May 25-May 27 to get further acquainted with parks staff and community members.

Park board member Ruth Jarnecke stood up to thank Parks Manager Matt Howton and Parks Supervisor Mike Howton for their collaboration as co-interim superintendents during the “smooth transition,” as she called it, giving way to a standing ovation for the Howtons.

Jarnecke said the board is planning to honor the two for their efforts at a special ceremony in the upcoming weeks.

In addition to hiring a superintendent, the parks also hired William Ploehn as a park naturalist. Ploehn will be filling the shoes of Eric Dlutkowski who resigned in March. Ploehn will assist in summer camp activities and the Parks-to-School program with naturalist Jim Mannel.

New Superintendent Seeks Community Interaction

During the meeting, Lenckos told the Chesterton Tribune one big attraction of the superintendent’s job was working with community members of Porter County. An Illinois native, he said looks forward to moving back to the Midwest.

Lenckos holds a Master of Science in Recreation Administra-tion from Aurora University. He started out working at two YMCAs from 2001 to 2003, one at George Williams College in Williams Bay, Wis. and another in Boulder Junction, Wis.

Most recently, Lenckos worked as a program director for Outward Bound in Baltimore, the world’s largest provider of adventure and experiential programs that uses outdoor adventures to build confidence leadership skills.

The experience gave Lenckos the abilities to manage staff, develop budgets and fundraising, and also develop partnerships throughout the community.

Some of Lenckos key goals he mentioned are continuing work laid out by the parks’ master plan, connecting different trails and waterways, developing the Kankakee trails, and enriching the county’s relationship with the National Park Service. He is also interested in developing a new website for the department that will allow web users to interact with park staff.

As for the parks themselves, Lenckos said he wishes to continue efforts on opening Brincka-Cross Park in Furnessville for the public and continue the progress at Sunset Hill Farm by increasing staff members and programs. He will also meet with staff and partners to see what their vision is for the Brookdale Park project, the county’s first active park which will be located in Liberty Twp.

“We need a sustainable plan that answers the community’s needs and allows us to provide the needed level of service,” he said.

With the parks being in a countywide budget crunch, Lenckos hopes to develop relationships with local organizations that support the parks’ goals. He also wants to begin a “robust” volunteer program to keep costs down and make the parks an attractive investment for private donors.

“From my experience, if you provide a valuable product or service to the community, the community will support you,” he said.

Lenckos said the parks department has a greatly dedicated group of staff members and will work closely with them collaboratively to accomplish their goals.

Lenckos said he is looking forward to the new chapter in his life. He and his wife Stephanie just became proud parents of newborn twin girls last week.

Hopes for Brookdale

Grant Dropped

Land Acquisition and Development Committee Chair Richard Maxey said he is giving up efforts to acquire the Department of Natural Resources matching grant for the Brookdale Park project due to lack of time. The deadline for that grant is June 1, Maxey said, and they have not been able to render the survey and master plan information required for the grant application.

The committee will try for the grant next year, Maxey said. They will also be issuing a Request for Proposal for firms interested in doing the master plan work.

Porter County Redevelopment Advisory Committee Director John Shepherd has joined the committee to help find ways to fund the development. The committee has partnered with local sports groups that have expressed interest in helping the parks department maintain the proposed soccer and softball fields for the park.

The board also approved a $4,800 bid for soil testing and aeration on the land that will be used for the Brookdale Park. The bid from Soil Solutions was voted 4-1 with park board member Rebecca Tommerlin voting no.



Posted 5/7/2010