The Naperville Park District is hard at work gathering input from the public about its new activity center. It will occupy more than 5 acres of land and up to 80,000 square feet of space on Quincy Avenue and Fort Hill Drive.
The person most likely to coordinate and oversee the programs at that future site, along with dozens of others already on his watch, is Brad Wilson, director of recreation for the Naperville Park District.
Wilson, 37, finds himself in a unique position professionally. The Naperville Park District is the only place he’s worked since graduating from college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
“I majored in recreation management and minored in business administration, and I actually got my first job in this field back in Rock Island where I was raised,” Wilson said. “I did some maintenance work during high school and college for a while, and it really opened my eyes to the field.”
Wilson then applied for a position in Naperville after college and has been here ever since, working his way up through the ranks. He will celebrate 15 years with the district in March.
He is incredibly modest about his impact on the Park District and its residents. But director of marketing Sameera Luthman, who has worked with Wilson for a number of years, calls him the district’s No. 2 man.
“(Executive Director) Ray (McGury) has incredible faith in him; he’s has really risen through the ranks and been involved in a lot of projects,” Luthman said. “He’s met the expectations of the district, and he has an incredible work ethic, and moves things forward on behalf of the community.”
Luthman says Wilson’s leadership style “fosters team work and a collaborative environment,” and he’s skilled at explaining things in staff meetings.
“Brad does a great job explaining things, and is great as a facilitator and reaching consensus,” she said. “We work together and meet at least monthly, and look at programs and the revenue they’re generating and what is working well or things that trend downward.”
Wilson said he directly oversees a staff of 11 people who report directly to him, but the tentacles of the recreation department spread throughout the entire Park District.
“There are two areas: the parks Department, which oversees and maintains 140 parks throughout Naperville; and there is recreation, which involves all of our programming and employs hundreds of seasonal employees,” Wilson said. “An organization this size works because of the communication we have, supporting one another between the two departments is the key.”
During Wilson’s tenure as director of recreation — a position he has held since 2003 — he has overseen major projects, including Commissioner’s Park, the Nike Sports Complex expansion, the Centennial Beach renovation, and the new Knoch Knolls Nature Center that is scheduled to open later this fall. There also have been soccer field expansions, indoor synthetic fields, and early childhood and senior programs added to his resume.
And now the activity center awaits.
“I’m excited about the new center in that this is something people have wanted here for a long time,” Wilson said. “The district identified this as a need, and we really require more indoor space. It will provide additional activities we’ve not been able to offer before due to a lack of space, and the new center will address that.”
Wilson recognizes his tenure with only one employer is unique, and says that while neither he nor anyone else knows what the future will bring, working in Naperville has been rewarding.
“I enjoy the diversity of my job and the fact that each day is different, and you always have to look at how some activity will affect other age groups,” he said. “You have to take the whole community into account, and Naperville is incredible in regards to its level of volunteerism and its support of fundraisers.
“People here aren’t complacent — we work each day to improve upon what we do as an organization and the culture of the organization. This is a great place to work.”