Robert Ward has one major pet peeve.
After registering for a ballroom dance class with his wife at an area park district, the couple arrived to find a disinterested teacher, a gloomy studio and music streaming from a small boom box.
"There's nothing worse than when a class does not live up to its awesome description in the catalog," Ward said.
That's why the new director of parks and recreation at the Roselle Park District will register himself or even his 4-year-old daughter for classes at the Clauss Recreation Center.
One of Ward's main goals in his new post is to make sure Roselle offers top-notch programs. And a great way to evaluate classes is to check them out personally, he said.
The Daily Herald talked with Ward recently to learn more about who he is and how he plans to boost the fun-factor in Roselle. Here is an edited version of that interview.
Q. What interested you about the opportunity to serve in Roselle?
A. I just finished serving three years in Glencoe, was in Des Plaines for nine years prior and in Arlington Heights for two years before that. And when this became available, I had already participated in a lot of Roselle activities for most of my life, since I've lived in this area for 33 years.
I enjoy the ability in a small district to get my hands into something and make changes. I like the action portion of it, because there are not so many layers to go through to get things done.
Q. Is there something you're particularly proud of in your 14 years of working with various park districts?
A. The first thing that comes to mind is, when I started in Des Plaines, there was no youth golf league. This could possibly be because I think golf, in general, has outpriced itself. You have to buy all these expensive clubs and equipment, which makes it very hard to begin.
But our program started with 10 kids and when I left it had more than 230. And based on the participation numbers and feedback, I believe it was a valued program.
In addition, Des Plaines' Mountain View Mine started as just an 18-hole mini golf course. But through a combination of revenue and grants, the park district was able to build a skate park, BMX park and batting cages. I cannot single-handedly take credit for this, of course, but it was neat as a young professional to be part of that.
Q. What do you think is your biggest challenge as you step into your new role in Roselle?
A. I think space is a challenge. We have a pretty tight and well-designed community center. We don't have a lot of wasted space. Now the challenge is we have these established classes that people like, but we have to figure out how to accommodate other groups that aren't being served.
For example, we have a spinning room and people like that, which is great. But if we want to use the room for something else, we need to remove all the bikes and that makes the room less accessible.
We also have several aging parks and need to create a replacement schedule with parks that serve people's needs now. We need to gauge the needs of residents. Some of those parks were built in the early '90s and the living situations around those parks have changed. Maybe now the residents by one park are empty-nesters who have started caring more about their health. So would they rather have a park with more fitness equipment than a playground, for example?
Q. What is your favorite thing about your position?
A. My favorite thing, if done right, is that I get paid to allow people to have a good time.
I might not be a part of building things like roads, but I get to organize basketball tournaments, holiday events. I get to be a part of making memories.
Whether it's the sport you took that you love until you're an adult or a soccer league you hated as a kid because your parents forced you to join, you remember it forever.
Q. Tell us a little bit about you personally.
A. I have been married for 11 years and have a 4-year-old daughter. I love to travel, although I don't get to do it enough. I just returned from a family trip to Disney World and it was great, but that is not my idea of real travel.
The kind of experiences I prefer are more cultural, like the time I stumbled upon a Dia de los Muertos ceremony in Taxco, Mexico. There was so much ceremony to it. I think one of the coolest things about travel is it allows you to get the flavor and the essence of a another culture.