VALPARAISO | Three people with long-time and generous connections to the city's parks were honored Thursday during a reception at the Butterfield Pavilion at Fairgrounds Park.
Porter County Superior Court Judge William Alexa was presented with the Legendary Friend Award, and Bob and Nancy Urschel received the Art and Irene Malasto Legends Award presented annually by Parks Foundation. About 150 people attended the celebration.
Parks Director John Seibert said the Urschels' support of the parks over the years has been "significant, inspiring and fun" and the parks and the city are better because of them.
Seibert said Alexa was a Park Board member when Seibert was hired the first time in 1984 and would test the new director in several ways. One was to ask questions about decisions Seibert had made.
"He would get me on the defensive, but I learned that as he was asking the questions he had a smile on his face," Seibert said. "Those were some of the best times we had. Bill was a mentor for me like that."
Alexa was instrumental in creating the Park Foundation and appointing its first board members, and Seibert said the Butterfield Pavilion would not have not have happened without Alexa's leadership. While a state legislator, Alexa obtained the state funding for the city's first pathway, the Lakewood Link.
Alexa said hiring Seibert was one of the two toughest decisions he was involved in because the other candidate was Bill Oeding, now city administrator. The dilemma was solved by finding positions for both. The other tough decision was committing to buying the property for the Creekside Golf Course when the foundation didn't have a dime.
Master of ceremonies and foundation board member Bruce Berner said the Urschels have supported every major fundraising effort by the foundation since its inception and did it at a high level. They also have supported other park initiatives and many great causes throughout the area.
Son Rick Urschel recalled visiting the parks with his mother as a child and working with her to build a disability access ramp during the construction of the ValPlayso playground.
Bob Urschel explained his family's willingness to support the parks by saying simply, "The parks are really a gem in the community."