Column: Making a name in Geneva

• Originally published in the Kane County Chronicle on Sept. 18, 2008

Steve Persinger wasn’t born in Geneva. That place with that honor is Mexico, Mo.

He wasn’t raised in Geneva. He didn’t go to school in Geneva. He was raised in southern Illinois and went to high school in Robinson.

He didn’t even start his career in Geneva, bouncing around from Buffalo Grove to Lisle before landing in Geneva in 1979 to become director of the park district.

But none of that mattered Monday night when something was done to ensure that his name will be remembered in Geneva for a very long time.

The longtime executive director of the Geneva Park District had a wonderful surprise in store for him Monday night when he cut the ribbon on the sign to the new park district recreation center on Kaneville Road only to find his name emblazoned on it.

The Stephen D. Persinger Recreation Center should be open to the public in a week or so with a ribbon cutting slated for Sept. 27 and a grand opening in early October.

“I’m surprised, shocked, humbled,” he said two days after the event on Wednesday. “It still hasn’t set in my mind.”

It’s an odd thing to adjust to, having a huge red barn named after you, but it’s a well-deserved honor for this man who has done so much for his adopted community.

According to a release from the park district, under Persinger’s direction, the district has expanded its green space to over 700 acres. The park district has 40,000 program participants. It has an award-winning aquatic center, will soon have two fitness and recreation centers, and has developed an ample amount of bike and pedestrian trails. And he was instrumental in acquiring Peck Farm Park, the land the new rec center named after him now resides on.

And that’s not even including the long list of accolades and community service organization the release mentioned.

“There’s a lot of stuff on there, but I think they overdid it a bit,” Persinger admitted with a shade of sheepishness.

When he first started the job almost 30 years ago in the small town with farm fields dotting Randall rather than stores, he never would have guessed the park district would become what it has.

“Not that we didn’t dream about certain things,” Persinger said.

But those dreams have come true and even more so.

And, maybe more importantly, Geneva has become home for this man who once was quite the nomad.

“It’s a great community,” he said. “It’s been a fun place to live.”

Fifty years from now, people might not be exactly sure who Stephen D. Persinger is or why he adorns the name of the place where they run, play basketball, work out and take aerobic classes. But his name will be there. And I hope at least some people remember it was named for a man who might not have been born and raised in Geneva, but did his best to make the community a better place for his adopted hometown.

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