OPRA Announces 2019 Leadership Award Winners

Ohio Parks and Recreation Association is pleased to announce the winners of the 2019 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.”

The 2019 OPRA Professionals  of the Year are Sergeant Eric Lane, Ranger Scott Janicki, Ranger Elyzabeth McDonald, Ranger Cory Reis, Ranger Kyl Caldwell, Ranger Amanda Chiles and Ranger Rebecca Dieker of Five Rivers MetroParks. On August 4, these seven MetroParks rangers responded within six minutes to a tragic mass shooting in downtown Dayton’s Oregon District. Sgt. Lane and rangers Janicki, McDonald, Caldwell and Chiles all provided first aid to gunshot victims and supported other first responders in their efforts to render aid. Because the presence of a second shooter was still a possibility at the time, Sgt. Lane and rangers Janicki, McDonald and Reis worked to secure areas around the Oregon District. To protect the privacy of the deceased, ranger Chiles helped cover victims who had passed, while ranger Dieker had the challenging task of informing a mother that her daughter was, in fact, one of the deceased. After clearing the scene at 4:27 a.m., MetroParks rangers assisted Dayton Police with calls for service, as their officers were otherwise engaged with the ongoing investigation. For the ability to perform their duties in one of the most high-pressure and emotionally challenging situations an officer can experience, their sense of duty and their unwavering courage, Sgt. Lane and rangers Janicki, McDonald, Reis, Caldwell, Chiles and Dieker are the 2019 OPRA Professionals of the Year.

Jon Dobney of Greene County Parks & Trails is the 2019 Harvey Woods Lifetime Achievement Award winner. To say that Jon has a passion for parks is an understatement. He would be the first to tell you that “parks are all I know” and that “this is what I do.”  During a 37 year career at Ohio State Parks, where he rose from laborer to Assistant Chief of State Parks, Jon touched virtually every major project undertaken by State Parks for the last generation. After a four year retirement, he returned to the park world in 2018 and has completely revitalized what was a struggling department in less than two years. Park visitors have more than doubled during his brief tenure, dozens of construction and maintenance projects have been completed and the view of the park district among the people and the leadership of Greene County has changed dramatically. Because of his life-long commitment to Ohio parks and his revitalization of Greene County Parks & Trails, Jon Dobney is the 2019 winner of the Harvey Woods Lifetime Achievement Award.

OPRA’s 2019 Legislator of the Year is State Senator Kirk Schuring of Stark County. During more than two decades in the Ohio General Assembly, Senator Kirk Schuring has been a tireless advocate for parks and recreation and a key supporter of the Stark County Park District. As a strong supporter of the Clean Ohio Fund, Senator Schuring has been involved in nearly every project completed by Stark Parks over the past twenty years. This year, as Chair of a Senate Finance Subcommittee, Senator Schuring was able to include an OPRA backed amendment in the state budget which allows greater cooperation between park districts and other local government entities.

The 2019 OPRA Citizens of the Year are the Garg Family of Washington Township in Montgomery County. Hemant and Arti Garg were devastated when their daughter was killed as she was leaving the recreation center after a day at summer camp, one of her favorite activities.  The accident occurred when the car Yukta was riding in was struck broadside by an oncoming car at a dangerous intersection in front of the recreation center.  Breaking the news to her older sister, Ishita, was the hardest conversation the family ever faced. The Garg family quickly transformed their grief into action.  They established the Yukta Garg Memorial Foundation to support activities and causes within the community which benefit and support the interests of children.  Because of their activism and altruism, the intersection where Yukta died has been re-designed to prevent similar tragedies and three recreation center playgrounds reverberate with the sound of children’s laughter, mirroring Yukta’s vivacious spirit.

The Jack Hanna Resource Conservation Award winner is Mike Johnson, Chief of Conservation at Summit Metro Parks. Mike is a passionate advocate, trailblazer and change-maker for Ohio parks. Over his career, he’s preserved and restored thousands of acres of land, planted hundreds of thousands of trees and secured millions of dollars in grant funding. Working on the leading edge of stream and wetland restoration, habitat management and endangered species preservation, Mike is a teacher, collaborator and connector with unparalleled passion for conservation and our environment. His unique ability to build meaningful relationships across organizations has created an immeasurable public benefit and formed Summit Metro Parks into the conservation agency it is today.

The 2019 winner of the Outstanding Youth Leadership Award is Owen Troutman, a Junior honors student at New Albany High School. During the past five years, Owen’s father Mike and the young son of one of his teachers, Behren Britton were diagnosed with leukemia and lymphoma. This compelled Owen to act. Working with the New Albany Parks & Recreation Department and other partners, Owen created and led Buckets for Behren (B4B), a three-on-three basketball tournament born from Owen’s passion for the sport, his support for the Britton family and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s mission to increase awareness about blood cancers by holding a showcase, community event.  Teams from New Albany and surrounding areas were invited to play basketball in both girls and boys divisions from grades 3 through high school, and adult divisions. More than 200 people took part in the event, and Owen raised more than $10,000 to help fight blood cancers.

These awards will be presented at the annual OPRA Awards Dinner on February 4, 2020 at the Kalahari Conference Center.

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