Walter Cook said that after more than 30 years of service to the Mount Prospect Park District, he felt it was time to move on.
Cook, the district's chief executive officer, announced recently that he will retire on March 29, 2013.
"It just feels right," Cook, 60, said on Wednesday. "I've been here a long time, and it seems like the right point for transition."
Park board President John Eilering said he was disappointed to hear that the park district will soon lose Cook.
"He's an extraordinarily talented CEO, and he's been a great leader," Eilering said. "The good news is that he developed a very competent staff, which will help cushion the blow a bit. But we will miss him greatly."
Cook first joined the staff of the park district back in 1981, when he was hired as assistant superintendent for parks and planning, project manager and licensed landscape architect. He was named the superintendent of parks & planning in 1983.
In 1993, he was promoted to CEO, a job he will have held for 20 years when he retires. He is currently making a salary of $163,000.
During his tenure, the park district grew from a $3.5 million organization to a $17 million one. The park district maintained 337 acres of land when he joined; it now manages 506 acres.
Cook has been involved in the creation and/or opening of many new facilities in the park district, including the Big Surf wave pool (1984), the RecPlex fitness center (1991), the Friendship Park Conservatory (1996) and the Central Community Center (2001). He points to Big Surf and RecPlex as projects of which he's particularly proud.
"Big Surf was the first outdoor wave pool in Illinois," he said. "And RecPlex became a model for that type of facility around here."
Cook said he was helped along the way by dedicated park district commissioners and staff members.
"I've been fortunate to have had so many great people to work with," he said.
Cook is a native of Palos Park and now lives in Arlington Heights. He said he has some ideas about what he will do professionally after retiring from the district, but nothing is set in stone.
"I'm still a licensed architect, and getting back to doing some design work appeals to me," he said. "But I haven't decided yet, no."
Eilering formed a search committee to find a replacement for Cook. The committee is led by board Vice-President Tim Doherty. Eilering said he would like the board to hire a replacement by March 1, so the new CEO would have nearly a month to learn the ropes under Cook.