How longtime employee helped beautify West Chicago parks
A 14-year-old's summer job working on greenhouses sparked a passion in Jesse Felix that later would turn into a long and decorated career in parks and recreation -- including a lengthy stint with West Chicago Park District.
Felix, whose influence can be seen in every West Chicago park, will retire March 29 after 28 years with the district.
He began his career at Cantigny Park in Wheaton, working alongside his father for 15 years as assistant superintendent of grounds and rose to garden curator.
After studying horticulture at College Of DuPage and management at Aurora University, Felix became superintendent of parks for the West Chicago Park District in 1990.
His first memory of the park district was the challenge of working with a smaller staff and outdated equipment. He launched a plan to gradually buy used equipment to meet the needs of a growing district while being fiscally responsible.
Today, the district oversees 11 parks and more than 400 acres of open space and some of the equipment he purchased back then remains in use.
In 2007, the district hired Executive Director Gary Major and under his direction it has grown into a land- and facility-rich district. The changes provided several new opportunities for Felix, including a chance to create a trail system that connected residents with nature and to beautify existing parks.
Perhaps Felix's greatest legacy, though, is connected to a major storm that ripped through the city on July 1, 2012, and severely damaged Reed-Keppler Park.
Felix worked tirelessly to bring the park back and make it even better; it's now considered a level one arboretum.
Felix also had the idea to use wood from the trees that were lost during the storm and incorporate them as furniture accents at the ARC Center, which gave students of the architecture and furniture class of the Illinois Institute of Technology the opportunity to create more than 50 pieces of furniture and artwork and inspired the children's book "The Playground Tree" by Jeanette Joy.
Felix has received the Illinois Park and Recreation Chairman's Award, Professional of the Year Award, and has served as director for the Parks and Natural Resource Section of IPRA. He also served on the Midwest Institute of Park Executives board and twice received the President's Award.
He has supported and worked with the Morton Arboretum on the Chicago Regional Tree Initiative, taught horticulture at the College of DuPage and is an active Treekeeper with Openlands.