Little did Randy Blake know when his grandfather founded Effingham Park District that he would grow to have his own long-term relationship with the organization.
Blake retired Oct. 31 after nearly 39 years with the district as maintenance superintendent. It's an opportunity that came years after his grandfather, Clem Thoele, died, and one he didn't expect.
Blake started working for the park district Dec. 18, 1973, after former park director Ron Diehl had approached him. "I would go to play basketball at the district and one day Ron Diehl came up to me and said 'hey, want to be night building supervisor?' and I said 'sure,'" recalled Blake.
An 18-year-old Blake was attending Lake Land College at the time and was majoring in general studies. He was unsure what he wanted to do. He continued to do both, but his job would eventually take him away from getting a degree when a vacancy opened up and he was made maintenance superintendent a year later.
"This fell in my lap, and I decided this is what I want to do. So, this is the direction I went," he said.
Despite not finishing college, Blake feels he's earned a degree and more through his career by performing plumbing, electricity and carpentry - skills he had to pick up along the way.
"I never piddled with tools when I was younger. I learned as I went," he said.
Blake, however, was familiar with sports and recreation and his early duties included giving golf, archery and tennis lessons. He would later coach flag football and basketball.
"Since we were a small organization, our jobs overlapped," he said. "Maintenance helped with recreation, and recreation helped with
That small organization has expanded in the past 40 years from Community Park and a partial recreation center to three parks, a pool and an expanded rec center. The number of workers to maintain the facilities has also grown from Blake and one other employee to four full-time employees and, during the summer months, as many as 15 with seasonal and part time help. Now at 57, Blake decided it was time to retire.
"I just thought I didn't have the drive and passion anymore," he said.
Blake said there is another reason.
"My wife (Audrey) and I bought a camper and decided we want to spend more time traveling," he said.
"My wife is retired, and we thought why not spend time doing things we want to do now."
Blake has never fully retired, though. He helps with the district's youth basketball program and volunteers for its special needs program. And like others who have retired before him, he likely won't.
"Diehl and (Norvel) Moschenrose still help out," he said.
Longevity with the park district is a trait Blake shares with others who recently retired. Diehl retired last year after 39 years, working nearly all that time alongside Blake. Moschenrose worked with Blake more than 13 years and continued to even after his retirement on a volunteer basis.
"If Randy needed something, I would go do it," he said.
Moschenrose said Blake has a quiet demeanor and he never once had a problem with him.
"He'd bend over backward for you. He'd stand up for you. He's that type of person," he said.
Blake believes the longevity of workers says something about the district.
"You don't have the turnover problem like some companies, because people enjoy what they do out there," he said. "It's part of the reason I've been there 39 years is because of the people who work there."
Diehl believes the stability comes from liking the job and that means liking people, especially kids. Diehl said Blake's talent for working with kids shows.
"He's a people person, especially when it comes to kids," he said. Blake also was willing to do any task Diehl asked of him. Diehl said Blake was not only committed to the job, but enjoyed it.
"I've really enjoyed what I've done," said Blake. "I've learned so much it's just unbelievable."
Cathy Thoele can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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