New Skokie Park District director is a natural fit
Skokie Park District Executive Director John Ohrlund took over the Park District's top spot in early July after 23 years there. | Curtis Lehmkuhl~Sun-Times Media
NAME: John Ohrlund
NEW JOB: Executive director of the Skokie Park District
OLD JOB: Facilities manager of the Skokie Park District
BACKGROUND: Began with the Skokie Park District in 1989
Updated: October 8, 2012 8:28AM
SKOKIE — The word “seamless” doesn’t begin to cover the ease in which a staffing shift at the top of the Skokie Park District was recently made.
John Ohrlund, 57, former facilities manager and a more-than-20-year veteran of the Park District, assumed the executive director position from retiring Mark Schneiderman. It required an office move of only a few feet, as Ohrlund took residency of the larger corner office.
But if ever there was someone ready to move in and to pick up the reigns without a pause, Ohrlund was the person.
“I loved what I was doing,” he said. “This job is different, but it’s something I was ready for.”
He joined the Park District in 1989 as a parks superintendent, perhaps not quite realizing the extent of which the Park District would change — and change rapidly it did once he got there.
“I walked in and within a year, we were redoing every park in the Park District,” he said. “Work began pretty quickly.”
Ohrlund, as much as anyone then, is responsible for the current state of the Skokie Park District. His career grew just as the Park District did.
“When you think about what this place was like 20 years ago, the changes are pretty dramatic,” he said.
The Skokie Heritage Museum last weekend celebrated the 125th anniversary of the Engine House and the 20th anniversary of the museum itself with a variety of open-house activities, including interacting with Skokie’s past historical figures, participating in family historical games and making crafts.
Ohrlund peeked his head in, which brought back his own past.
“That was one of the first projects I worked on when I got here,” he said. “It was the first renovation.”
He got here from North Daktota, where he was superintendent of parks in Bismarck. He received his bachelor’s degree in biology from Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., in 1977, and his master’s degree in management from the University of Mary in Bismarck in 1988.
He also has a major passion for history — and he can pause and wax eloquently and interestingly about Custer and North Dakota with particular ease.
Ohrlund worked under three executive managers in Skokie before he inherited that title himself in early-July. He said that he never had a “driving force” to become chief of the Park District; he got along well with each director and was happy in the job he had.
But the opportunity presented itself and Ohrlund was a natural to take advantage of it.
For the past several years the Park District has been in maintenance mode with a few notable exceptions. The popular Skatium ice rink received a major facelift, and the Park District is now engaged in proposed projects to build a skate park at Lincoln Junior High School and to create lighted ball fields at the east end of the Skokie Sports Park.
The Park District has also issued a comprehensive user survey. The early results show just how much patrons value Park District activities — especially some of the district’s free offerings, Ohrlund said.
Such activities — summer concerts, staple festivals like the Backlot Bash and the Festival of Cultures — will continue to be hallmarks of the Park District. Ohrlund worked closely with the former Park District executive director so it’s no surprise that the district will continue on in a similar mode.
But there is one difference between Schneiderman and Ohrlund: The former loved to play golf while Ohrlund’s game is tennis, which he plays a few times a week.
Ohrlund lives in Buffalo Grove with his wife, a medical technologist. They have two children, a daughter, 26, a pediatric nurse, and a son, 25, a pharmaceutical student.
They are both engaged to be married, which may provide the greatest change in Ohrlund’s life in the immediate future rather than his work life.