Why West Chicago's first park is getting a new name
West Chicago Park District officially will rename its first park -- currently known as Easton Park -- in honor of its first supporter, Don Earley.
A brief ceremony will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 2, at the newly named Don Earley Park at 840 E. Washington St.
Earley is a longtime West Chicago resident who met his wife, Marylin, here. The two were married in 1969 and created their family of 10 with eight children from their previous marriages.
Earley is an Army veteran who has a bachelor's degree in mathematics from Elmhurst College and a master's in education administration from Northern Illinois University. He worked as a math teacher for 46 years, including 43 in St. Charles. While teaching at St. Charles Junior High, he also worked at the St. Charles Park District as a director of summer recreation.
In 1972, Earley spearheaded a committee called "Better Recreation for West Chicago" that presented a referendum question to create a stand-alone park district. Along with creating the district, voters also were asked to elect their first set of park board commissioners.
Earley was elected the first president and remained on the board until 1979. When it was created, the park district had no employees and its future rested in the hands of committed volunteers.
Earley took a leadership role for many projects, including purchasing Easton Park, establishing the district's first office building and hiring its first staff members.
In 1976, Earley and park Commissioner Frank Lenertz wrote and acquired the district's first grant through the Department of Natural Resources and the money led to the purchase of what is now Pioneer Park. In 1978, he and Commissioner Mike Ginko's efforts in Springfield led to the purchase of Manville Oaks, today known as Kress Creek Farms.
His commitment didn't stop after his time as commissioner; he also was heavily involved as the treasurer for the referendum committee that eventually lead to the realization of the ARC Center.
His dedication to the community went beyond establishing the park district. He also served as an alderman for 12 years, city treasurer for 12 years and civil service commissioner for two years.
Earley also has been a member of the Honor Flight committee of DuPage County, which raises money to send World War II vets on the honor flight to Washington, D.C. He formed part of the "For the People Committee," whose mission was to bring people together to work cooperatively to end violence and social stigma in the community. Over the years he has also been involved with St. Mary's Catholic Church and the Knights of Columbus Council.
His stepson, Don Voelz, served on the park district board for more than a decade and now his granddaughter, Courtney Voelz, is a commissioner.
The park district he helped create now has 12 parks and a staff of nearly 300.
"My only goal is to be a good citizen and help those that are in need," Earley says.