Ray Ochromowicz is the new St. Charles Park District director as of Jan. 24, but the man he replaces leaves behind a green infrastructure nearly twice as large as it was when he took the job.
Ochromowicz comes to the district after one year as the director of the Park Ridge Park District. Ochromowicz spent 22 years as the director of the Bolingbrook Park District before the Park Ridge job. While in Bolingbrook, Ochromowicz and the district won the National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management. The award is generally considered the Academy Award of park districts.
Ochromowicz's departure from Park Ridge was a surprise, but Ochromowicz told local officials St. Charles is the home of his girlfriend, and it's the only other job he's ever coveted.
"It is a career highlight to follow in the footsteps of Jim Breen as the executive director of the St. Charles Park District," Ochromowicz said in a written statement. "The district is on the cutting edge of recreation programming and has earned a national reputation for outstanding parks and facilities. More importantly, it enjoys tremendous support from its residents and business community. I look forward to the privilege of serving alongside a very dedicated and talented board and staff."
Following in Breen's footsteps will be a tough task, if for no other reason than those feet have walked through many new acres of park district property during the past 19 years.
"It's been a great time for growth," Breen said of his tenure.
Breen spotlighted the purchase of the 348-acre West Side Community Park for only about $43,000 as a key moment in his career.
"We've saved a lot of natural areas from development," Breen said. "We have more than 60 park sites, including natural areas and many neighborhood parks. It's all because our local officials work together in the same direction."
The park district is one of the few still working on expansion during a down economy. Residents approved a $25 million referendum question two years ago. Those funds will put a cap on Breen's tenure when a new aquatic center opens on Memorial Day weekend. A new education center will open in the park district, most likely in April. And Breen said he's particularly proud of the 45-acre park the district will now have at the former jail site in Valley View thanks to a new, 50-year lease with the Kane County Forest Preserve District.
In retirement, Breen plans to continue living in St. Charles, but spend much time traveling across the country to visit family and the country's many national parks.
"When I was in undergraduate school, I never saw myself sitting at a desk," Breen said. "But St. Charles is a wonderful community. I'm so proud of the people here. I raised a family here. It's been a wonderful place for us."