OPRA Announces 2018 Leadership Award Winners

Ohio Parks and Recreation Association is pleased to announce the winners of the 2018 Outstanding Leadership Awards.  Parks and recreation professionals and citizens were nominated by parks and recreation professionals from around the state for these awards.

“These individuals really represent some of the best in parks and recreation, past, present and future,” said OPRA Executive Director Woody Woodward.  “Each of these winners understands the vital role that parks and recreation plays in establishing and maintaining community and building quality of life.”

Dave Noble is the 2018 inductee into the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association Hall of Fame.  Noble served and led several Ohio parks and recreation agencies over a 37 year career in Ohio. He began his career in parks and recreation as a part-time employee at the Kettering, Ohio ice rink in the 1970’s. Dave retired from Lake Metroparks as Executive Director in 2009. Noble’s 20-year tenure with Lake Metroparks was the capstone of his career. Under his leadership, the park district was a five-time National Gold Medal Finalist. Noble is Past President of the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association (1986-87); Past-Chairman and instructor of the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) Revenue Sources Management School at Oglebay Park; Past Chairman of the NRPA Great Lakes Regional Council; and a past member of the Board of Regents and instructor of the Supervisory Management School at Oglebay Park.

The 2018 OPRA Professional of the Year is Bob Fonte, Director of Stark County Park District. For over 23 years, Fonte has led the growth of Stark County Park District from a single mile of trail and just 400 acres of land to 110 miles of walking and biking trails, 38 miles of equestrian trails, 14 parks and over 8,000 acres of land. He led the creation of the countywide Trail and Greenway Master Plan that was adopted in 1999 to connect people, places and communities with 300 miles of interconnected, recreational trails. The Plan won the Award of Merit for Design at the American Society of Landscape Architects’ centennial meeting. It drives the development of Stark Parks’ green space and trail expansion today. During his tenure, the park district revenue has increased from $750,000 annually to $7 million annually, including an average of $2 million annually from grants. Fonte has also served as President of OPRA and been a member of the OPRA Board since 2010.

Tom James of Medina County Park District is the 2018 Harvey Woods Lifetime Achievement Award winner. In 25 years as director of MCPD, James made a lasting, positive impact on not only the landscape, but on the quality of life of generations of residents. Under Tom’s leadership, MCPD grew from 1,000 acres to 6,500 acres in one of Ohio’s fastest-developing communities. Tom was a dean among Ohio parks professionals, generously mentoring others, serving on numerous boards and keeping active watch on statewide legal and legislative issues. James recently retired from Medina County Park District after 47 total years of service to the parks and recreation industry in Ohio.

OPRA’s 2018 Legislator of the Year is Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur. U.S. Representative Marcy Kaptur is a longtime champion for parks, conservation and access to greenspace, with an impressive record of action on each. The longest-serving woman in the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Kaptur has played important roles in a variety of significant projects by Metroparks Toledo and other conservation organizations, including help supplying funding for two major recent projects. She was vital to securing funding for a 500 acre addition to Oak Openings Preserve, the region’s largest park, as part of an even larger greenway corridor project. She also was an early and strong champion for the development of Howard Marsh, the largest wetland restoration project in recent years on all the Great Lakes, and the single largest project in Metroparks Toledo history. Specific to this project, she helped secure nearly $7 million in federal funding. As co-chair of the House Great Lakes Task Force, Rep. Kaptur has consistently championed full funding of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

OPRA is pleased to recognize two 2018 Citizens of the Year.

Citizen of the Year Greg Lashutka has been a member of the Columbus and Franklin County Board of Park Commissioners for more than 10 years. Lashutka and his fellow park commissioners have set strong direction and vision standards that have continued to make Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks the number one attraction in Central Ohio. During his tenure on the board, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks opened five parks, added 4,000 acres of land, 50 miles of trails and took over operations of 90 miles of Central Ohio Greenway Trails. The former Mayor of Columbus, Lashutka was instrumental in the continued development of the city’s recreation and parks department. Columbus’s The Gregory S. Lashutka Event Center is a lasting tribute to his work there.

Citizen of the Year Andy Niekamp is on a mission to connect people with the region’s trails through outdoor recreation opportunities and education. He’s the founder of the region’s most active recreation group, Dayton Hikers, and champion of the trails throughout the southwestern Ohio region and the state. A trailblazer on and off the trails, Niekamp has been a lifelong user of and supporter for Five Rivers MetroParks. Dedicating his life to creating more trail enthusiasts and improving the trail experience, Niekamp has grown the Dayton Hikers to more than 5,000 members during the past nine years. Going by the trail name “Captain Blue,” Niekamp hikes thousands of miles each year. In 2017, Niekamp worked with the Buckeye Trail Association on funding for a bridge and boardwalk at Eastwood MetroPark on the Buckeye Trail. His relationship with the Buckeye Trail Association grew after 2011, when he hiked the entire 1,444-mile trail.

The Jack Hanna Resource Conservation Award winner is Tim Gallaher of Metroparks Toledo. Gallaher has over 21 years of committed service with Ohio park districts, including 5 years with the Wood County Park District and 16+ years with Metroparks Toledo. He is an innovative leader in natural resources management, and currently oversees habitat restoration and management of over 12,000 acres of parkland for Metroparks Toledo within one of the most biologically diverse areas of Ohio, including the Oak Openings region and Lake Erie Coastal Marsh region. Gallaher is directly responsible for the restoration of more Oak Openings habitat than any other Ohio park professional, restoring over 1,500 acres of degraded and previously unmanaged habitat.  A strong advocate for reforestation, Gallaher has directly overseen the planting of over 95,000 trees across the park district over the past 15 years.

Our 2018 Youth Sports Coach of the Year is Ed Krause of the City of Reynoldsburg.  Krause began his volunteer youth sports coaching career in the 1970’s. Despite not knowing any of the rules or strategies, he found himself as the head coach of his daughter’s first soccer team in 1978. He continued to coach both his daughters’ soccer and softball teams through their youth and into the 1990’s when his granddaughters took up soccer.  Most recently, Krause coached his middle granddaughter, Rachael thus taking on a whole new generation of players to mentor.  Over this time span, Krause has been the head coach in a variety of age divisions ranging from 6U-14U, boys/girls. Perhaps most notable of all his volunteer roles has been his commitment and dedication to the Superhero Soccer program, which Krause helped grow into the thriving program it is today.  Superhero Soccer is an adaptive soccer program for children with disabilities.  Krause has been imperative in the coaching of the “superheroes” as he calls them and the training of youth to become shadow coaches.

The 2018 winner of the Outstanding Youth Leadership Award is Ella Oswalt of the City of Gahanna. After attending an Earth Day event at Woodside Green Park, Oswalt guided Girl Scout Troop 678’s partnering with Gahanna Parks & Recreation to create the Woodside Green Nature Explore & Play Area. Ella presented the idea to redevelop part of Woodside Green into a Natural Play area. Ella was inspired by other local parks outside of Gahanna that had natural play areas and saw a specific need in Gahanna to “get kids off of electronics,” and thought Woodside Green was a perfect fit. She presented her idea to the City, and was a leader in project development, fundraising and even scheduling volunteers for work days at the park. The vine cutting ceremony was covered by local TV stations, and the new play area has provided a much needed update to one of Gahanna’s most scenic parks that has far exceeded expectations. Oswalt is a 12 year old 6th grader at Middle School West in the Gahanna Jefferson School District and is a member of Girl Scout Troop 678.

These awards will be presented at the annual OPRA Awards Dinner on February 5 at the Kalahari Conference Center.

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