ITASCA – Special events are lined up for the Itasca Park District’s 50th anniversary celebration Friday, including a hula-hoop contest, watermelon toss and race, face painting, raffles and more.
The free birthday bash will take place from 12:30 to 9 p.m. at the Itasca Caribbean Paradise Waterpark, 100 N. Catalpa Ave.
Guests in attendance will include original Itasca Park District board Commissioner Donald Oberg, 83, who said he plans to celebrate with the district at the water park, which originally opened in 1972.
“I think they’re doing a hell of a job,” Oberg said. “I’m an original member, and it's the 50th anniversary – that makes me feel good.”
The Itasca Park District was founded on July 25, 1964, through a referendum of 652 ballots, 479 for its creation and 161 against it.
In addition to Oberg, who served as treasurer, the first board members included President Victor Dixon, Vice President Floyd Christensen, Secretary Maryann J. Niedert and Commissioner Kenneth A. Irons.
Oberg doesn’t think the other members of his board are still alive because they were all older than him by five or 10 years, he said.
“Over the years, we’ve lost track,” said Oberg, who served as grand marshal for the district’s 2014 Memorial Day Parade. “I’m not going to live forever either.”
A baseball coach in Itasca for 10 years, Oberg said he was asked to run for a position on the board because he was active with kids in the community.
“I’m not interested in politics at all. I enjoyed working with the kids; that was my main object,” he said. “I didn’t think I was going to get elected, but I did.”
However, Oberg resigned from the board after four months because his family and regular job were more important to him, he said. He has four children who are now all married.
Itasca Park District Executive Director Maryfran Leno said Oberg gave the district an original copy of the 1964 referendum ballot, and she hopes he will say a few words at the 50th anniversary celebration.
“Over 50 years we’ve accomplished so much because of the efforts of the board and staff,” said Leno, who’s served as executive director for 10 years. “We want to take the opportunity to celebrate all the things we’ve done in the past; without those accomplishments, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
The district is looking forward to sunny weather and a great crowd at Friday’s birthday party at Itasca’s water park, said Joe McCann, superintendent of recreation.
“We’re expecting over 500 people for sure,” said McCann, adding the water park can hold twice that amount.
During its many years, the Itasca Park District has received two gold medals from the National Recreation and Parks Association, which rewards communities for excellence in long-range planning, resource management and agency recognition, said Leno, who started at the district as the marketing and special events supervisor.
“It’s like the Oscars for the park district world,” she said.
The Itasca Park District currently has nine parks consisting of more than 43 acres of land, according to its website. The district also maintains four facilities, including the Itasca Recreation Fitness Center, Itasca Caribbean Paradise Waterpark, Itasca Historical Depot Museum and a maintenance shop.
Linda Aiani, current Board of Commissioners president, said the district regularly sends out a survey to every household in Itasca to rate its services. Results for this year show nearly all respondents are satisfied with the district's programs and events and feel safe in its parks, she said.
“The staff gives 110 percent and takes the residents’ and community’s concerns to heart," Aiani said.
If you go
What: Itasca Park District's 50th anniversary celebration
When: 12:30 to 9 p.m. Friday
Where: Itasca Caribbean Paradise Waterpark, 100 N. Catalpa Ave.