Few have left as visible a mark on Buffalo Grove as Michael Rylko.
And yet, few people would probably recognize the name. That is mainly because Rylko, executive director of the Buffalo Grove Park District for more than a quarter of a century, has chosen to remain in the background, letting his actions speak for him.
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Under Rylko's leadership, the district has grown from 10 parks to 50, from 127 acres to 414, from 10 full-time employees to 52.
Dale "Duke" Ducommon, the retiring superintendent of parks, has known Rylko since he began working for the district in 1972. At the time Rylko was an intern.
"He's not just a boss. He's a friend," Ducommon said - a friend whose parks legacy includes "everything north of Checker Road."
The centerpiece of that growth was Busch Grove Community Park, an area that includes the Buffalo Grove Fitness Center and the Buffalo Grove Golf and Sports Center. The district is honoring Rylko by renaming Busch Grove Community Park after him. Rylko also oversaw the renovation of the Raupp Memorial Museum and the creation of the Spray 'N Play water park.
On Thursday evening at Buffalo Grove's Arboretum Club, it was Rylko's turn to occupy the spotlight, at a banquet held in his honor to commemorate his retirement.
"The only thing I could think to say negative about him is that he hates to toot his own horn, and tonight we are glad to that for him," park board member Martha Weiss said.
Another park board member, Larry Reiner, praised his efforts on Busch Grove Community Park - "an incredible park with nature walks, a baseball/softball complex, the No. 1 golf dome in the United States, a first-class state-of-the-art fitness center and spa, an amazing in-line skating rink and challenging skate park, shelters, gazebos, soccer fields and the infamous fastpitch wall."
Virtually every segment of the community attended the reception, including members of the Buffalo Grove village board, the local Rotary chapter and the Buffalo Grove Area Chamber of Commerce.
"His leadership style is a mixture of art, science, compassion and grace," Reiner said. "He has taught us all to handle the most difficult situations with class and poise."
But when a beaming Rylko was asked about his accomplishments, he was careful to spread the compliments around.
"Fortunately for me I was able to have the opportunity to come here during the growth period and work with a lot of great people, both park commissioner and staff, and it's been a total team effort from day one.
"I'm very fortunate that my board has always set the policy and let the staff carry out the day to day operations of the district. And it's been just a fabulous time. I loved to come to work every day of my life."
After working for the district as an intern in 1972, he was hired in 1973, rising to recreation superintendent. He then served as parks and recreation director for Streamwood from 1976-1984 before returning to Buffalo Grove to run the whole show.
The park district has been on the receiving end of state and national awards and was a finalist for the National Gold Medal for Best Park District in the country. Rylko himself received a number of awards from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. He was also named Rotarian of the Year and was the recipient of the Buffalo Grove Rotary Club's Bill Reid Community Service Award.
"He would never take the credit," said John Green, a board member on the Buffalo Grove Friends of the Parks Foundation. "He always gave the credit away. Because it was about getting the job done and never ever getting it done second rate.
Rylko will be succeeded by Dan Schimmel, the district's deputy director.
Rylko said he will continue to be involved with the Buffalo Grove Rotary Club and he intends to learn how to play golf correctly in his retirement. He also plans to do more weekday motorcycle riding.