Hoffman Estates Park District's Craig Talsma Honored with Prestigious Award

Craig Talsma, the Executive Director of the Hoffman Estates Park District (HEParks), received the coveted Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD) Honored Professional Award last week during the annual statewide Illinois park and recreation conference, held at the Hyatt Regency Chicago. This award is the highest individual professional honor given by the association. 

IAPD is the oldest statewide association of its kind in the country, providing support for over 425 local park, recreation, forest preserve and conservation agencies and maintaining strong relationships with local government leaders. The IAPD Honored Professional Award is presented to an executive director of a member agency that has worked closely with citizens and the IAPD to improve the quality of life for all people in Illinois. 

Talsma's illustrious 32-year career in the park and recreation industry, culminating in this award, is a testament to his outstanding contributions and commitment to his community. He joined HEParks in 1997, steadily progressing from Finance Director to Deputy Director, and ultimately ascending to the role of Executive Director in 2018.

Under his leadership, HEParks has attained several noteworthy recognitions and achievements, most recently being named with the top honor of Grand Plaque recipient for the National Gold Medal Award for Class IV (population 30,001-75,000). Other awards and certifications during his tenure with HEParks include three consecutive national accreditations through CAPRA (Commission for Accreditation of Parks and Recreation Agencies) with a flawless score. In addition, the district is accredited five times at the state level through the IAPD/IPRA (Illinois Parks and Recreation Association) Distinguished Park & Recreation Agency award.

Talsma's dedication extends beyond his organization. To date, he has successfully secured over $3.5 million in grants during his time as Executive Director, including a recent announcement of a $600,000 grant to renovate Vogelei Park, which will create a fully inclusive community park and splash pad. 

His advocacy during the pandemic impacted Cook County Park Districts significantly. Talsma collaborated with the Cook County Department of Health to overturn an unfair vaccine mandate, which resulted in a national podcast interview where he shared his expertise. His commitment to knowledge-sharing is evident through numerous presentations at state conferences and board member training at IAPD Boot Camps.

Talsma has also forged partnerships with school districts; one such agreement resulted in a fully inclusive playground not only for the children with special needs who attend the local school, but for all residents. This project was recognized with the IPRA 2022 Facility of the Year Award. His negotiation skills have garnered substantial financial support from school districts and other local organizations, ensuring growth and accessibility for HEParks.

Financial responsibility is a hallmark of Talsma's leadership, with one of the lowest property tax to total expense ratios for a district of its size in the state. Additionally, his "Programs For All" initiative provides underprivileged children free access to district programs, promoting inclusivity and community enrichment.

"I am deeply honored to receive this prestigious award from the IAPD," said Talsma. "It reflects not only my dedication but also the hard work and collaboration of the entire HEParks team, board of commissioners and our community partners. Together, we have achieved remarkable milestones, and I look forward to continuing our mission of providing the best in park and recreation services for our community.”

The Honored Professional Award presentation to HEParks’ Executive Director, Craig Talsma, (CPA, CPRE) occurred during the IAPD/IPRA Conference on January 26, 2024, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.