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Miller: Batavia Park District’s leadership extends statewide

Published: Thursday, Oct. 24, 2013 5:29 a.m. CDT

They may not be celebrities, but their names are known statewide. Several employees amongst the Batavia Park District not only play an important role within the district and community, but also throughout organizations such as the Illinois Park and Recreation Association and the Midwest Institute of Park Executives.

Allison Niemela, executive director for the Batavia Park District, has been in the parks and recreation field for more than 15 years. She got her start at the Addison Park District and eventually became the Batavia Park District’s first-ever director of marketing and public relations.

In February 2012, Niemela was appointed interim executive director before being named executive director by the Batavia Park Board of Commissioners in August 2012. This year, Niemela is serving as the chairman of the board for the Illinois Park and Recreation Association, a highly coveted title among parks and recreation professionals.

“As the chairman of IPRA, I have access to the best educational resources in the state,” Niemela said. “Much of what I have learned can be applied here at the Batavia Park District. Education, resource sharing and networking are at the top of my list of priorities when developing professional staff.”

Eric Lacher, director of parks and properties, is a seasoned parks and recreation professional with nearly 30 years of service under his belt at the Batavia Park District. Lacher oversees operations for the district’s 40 park sites and facilities.

In 2013, Lacher was elected president of MIPE for the second time in his 25 years with the organization. He is the first person in MIPE’s 75-year history to have been elected to serve as president twice.

“MIPE is the best networking group that helped coach and mentor young professionals to build better parks for their districts,” Lacher said. “Calling on my fellow MIPE members has rewarded me with tons of knowledge and shared ideas. That knowledge has helped me develop my skills in writing bid specifications, doing contract negotiations, and providing customer service to park patrons.”

Director of Finance Rita Kruse came to the district in January and hit the ground running.

In addition to her crucial role at the district, she currently is in her second year as treasurer for the Illinois Government Finance Officers Association. She became involved with that organization eight years ago and quickly climbed the ranks.

“I was a younger professional, and I wanted to let accountancy students know that local government finance is a rewarding career,” Kruse said. “My role with the IGFOA benefits the district because I have connections to other finance professionals and advisers that assist me in making the best financial decisions for the district and its residents.”

Jennifer Bruggeman is a new face to the Batavia Park District but is well known throughout the Suburban Parks and Recreation Association. Bruggeman was hired as the district’s human resources and risk manager in July. She currently is serving as president of SPRA. Bruggeman holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Recreation and Park Administration and a master’s in management and organizational behavior.

“I joined SPRA to gain knowledge of successes and trials within our industry, especially in the nearby suburbs,” Bruggeman said. “My involvement in the organization has made me more aware of industry best practices and has given me a large network and understanding of the local talent pool.”

Batavia Park District staff members are encouraged to participate in professional development opportunities and become involved in organizations that will help them advance as parks and recreation professionals.

In turn, staff is able to better serve the residents of the community while being viewed as an industry leader.

In 2009 and 2010, the Batavia Park District was named as a finalist for the National Recreation & Park Association’s Gold Medal Award, which is the highest honor a park district can achieve.

The district also is an Illinois Distinguished Agency, which honors park districts that provide outstanding service to improve the quality of life for residents within their community.

For information about the Batavia Park District, visit

• Kari Miller is director of marketing and public relations for the Batavia Park District. Contact her at

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