Lifetime Achievement Award presented to McHenry County Conservation District leader

  • Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District

    Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District

Updated 2/20/2021 12:20 AM

The Illinois Park & Recreation Association honored Elizabeth Kessler, executive director of the McHenry County Conservation District, for her commitment and lifetime of service to parks, recreation, and conservation in Illinois.

Kessler was recognized during the IPRA Awards Program at the IAPD/IPRA Soaring to New Heights Virtual Conference.


The Robert Artz Lifetime Achievement Award is named in honor of Robert Artz who, in 1979, was the newly hired executive director of the Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD). He was on American Airlines flight 191 to Los Angeles when it crashed outside O'Hare International Airport, leaving no survivors. Robert Artz left a legacy for IPRA as a champion of all that we do and all that we stand for. His award goes to a person with a minimum of 25 years as a full time professional in the field (with over 15 years served in Illinois) whose efforts & contributions have a lasting value and effect on parks and recreation.

Kessler has dedicated her 35-plus year career to parks and recreation, a field she has immersed herself in wholeheartedly with tireless effort, unending enthusiasm, and forward-thinking leadership.

During her tenure in McHenry, Kessler has overseen a successful $73 million, voter-approved referendum, the protection of 5,600 acres of land, the opening of 14 sites with public access and outdoor amenities, the addition of 12 miles of regional trails, the welcoming of over 1 million annual site visitors, and the opening of the lost valley visitor center, the county's first gold-level LEED-certified public building.

Throughout her career, Kessler has served at the regional, state, and national levels. Currently, she is an advisor to the McHenry County Conservation Foundation, sits on the board of Visit McHenry County, and serves as chair of Chicago Wilderness. She is a past member of the board of directors of the Park and Recreation Administration; past president of the National Recreation and Park Association; past chair of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association; 2020 chair of the IPRA Forest Preserve and Conservation District Task Force; and a member of the Illinois Association of Conservation and Forest Preserve Districts.

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Kessler's personal accomplishments include an invitation to the White House to attend President Barack Obama's America's Great Outdoors Initiative and being named a Woman of Distinction by the Northwest Herald and McHenry County Living Magazine.

"Elizabeth Kessler inspires other professionals all over the country. She was IPRA's Past Chair several years ago and has continued to serve IPRA in a variety of ways. She is a leader at the national level, and we are so proud to recognize her with this important lifetime achievement award," stated Debbie Trueblood, CAE, IPRA Executive Director.

A complete list of award winners is available on the IPRA website,

The IAPD/IPRA Soaring to New Heights Conference is the premier state conference for parks and recreation, forest preserves and conservation agencies in Illinois. In 2021, the IAPD/IPRA Soaring to New Heights Conference went virtual -- bringing together park and recreation professionals and elected officials for three exciting days of quality educational programming, networking, and professional development.

Established in 1944, the Illinois Park and Recreation Association's mission is to provide and promote exceptional standards of education, networking, and resources for all professionals in the Illinois park, recreation, and conservation communities. For more information about IPRA, its board and mission, visit the IPRA website:

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