Susan Friend has no plans to live a quiet retired life.
The executive director of the South East Association for Special Parks and Recreation has plenty to keep her busy after she walks away from the Downers Grove-based organization July 7.
Golf, family, volunteerism and travel are all on the docket for the Lombard resident.
“I have things I’m looking forward to doing,” Friend said. “I decided it was time to let someone else have the fun of running SEASPAR.”
That someone is Matthew Corso, who has worked for SEASPAR for nearly 14 years and has been involved in special parks and recreation for 27 years.
But Friend won’t be a stranger. Her volunteer efforts will include working at SEASPAR, the organization she joined as recreation supervisor at the encouragement of a friend who was the executive director at the time.
“It’s been a part of my life,” she said. “I came here and found a home."
Friend said she’ll miss her colleagues and the families SEASPAR has served during her tenure.
The job has been amazingly fulfilling, especially when she considers the thousands of individual successes she’s witnessed through the years.
“First words, Special Olympics,” Friend recalled. “We’ve walked down some paths with the families. I have had a lot of opportunities.”
She especially enjoyed convincing families their children could exceed expectations.
Friend cherished her job because “there was always more to do,” she said.
She wore many hats as executive director including leader, spokeswoman, manager, financial overseer and planner, she said.
A native of Lerna, Ill., a tiny town in central Illinois, Friend grew up with a cousin who had Down syndrome. When she went to college, she joined a sorority that worked with children with disabilities.
“I had no idea that’s what my vocation would be,” she said.
Friend was one of the first employees hired by the newly developing DuPage County special recreation associations in the mid-1970s.
She played a significant role in SEASPAR’s growth in the number of communities and individuals it served. During her tenure, the organization received recognition from national and state recreation associations.
SEASPAR provides recreation programs and services for individuals with disabilities served by the park districts of Clarendon Hills, Darien, Downers Grove, La Grange, La Grange Park, Lemont, Lisle, Westmont and Woodridge, and the villages of Brookfield, Indian Head Park and Western Springs.
Friend has been involved in many professional organizations including the Special Recreation Associations of Northern Illinois and the Suburban Park and Recreation Association. She's been lauded over the years with awards such as the Recreation Administration Distinguished Alumni Award and the College of Education and Professional Studies Leadership and Service Award from her alma mater, Eastern Illinois University.
“I’ve most appreciated the opportunity to develop long-term relationships with SEASPAR’s participants, their families, and many co-workers. I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to work with so many dedicated professional colleagues," she said. “Working at the same agency for so many years has been rewarding for me in so many ways.”
Friend said she has a to-do list that won't get completed by the end of the week. But she's ready for her next adventure.
“After 40 years, it’s time to shift gears,” Friend said.