September 13, 2023 at 10:31am

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Elena Ferrarin

Article by Elena Ferrarin

Communications Coordinator
Northbrook Park District


By all accounts, newly appointed Northbrook Park District Executive Director Chris Leiner has had an impressive rise to the top of his profession.

For those who know the 39-year-old, that’s not surprising.

“He is a driven, intelligent professional who truly knows our industry, and he’s got strengths in a lot of areas,” said his predecessor Molly Hamer, who retired September 8. “He’s always been motivated to be an executive director. That was his professional goal, and I think he will lead the district very effectively.”

Leiner was the district’s director of parks and properties for 19 months before being selected by the board of commissioners to lead the district starting September 1. He previously worked for seven years as director of parks and planning for the Glencoe Park District, where he was part of the team that earned a 2019 National Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management from the American Academy for Park and Recreation in partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association. Prior to that, he spent two years as assistant director of parks and planning for the Des Plaines Park District, and six years as maintenance and operations supervisor for the Park District of Oak Park.

During his time in Northbrook, he’s come to deeply appreciate the well-managed district, Leiner said. “The community is educated and conscientious, and its values align with my own,” he said. “This is the beginning of the next step in my career, and to be making a step like this in Northbrook is exciting.”

Northbrook Park District Board President Lisa Chalem praised Leiner’s expertise and accomplishments.

“We are so excited to welcome Chris as our new executive director,” Chalem said. “Chris is hard-working and energetic. He has led major projects for the district, brought in new funding sources, and helped remedy our staffing shortages. Chris’s background in business, parks and recreation make him a great choice to lead the Northbrook Park District.”

Leiner lives in Gurnee with his wife, a 7th grade teacher, and their 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.

His career in parks and recreation traces back to high school, when he held jobs as a lifeguard, custodian, concessions worker and Zamboni ice machine driver. His first full-time supervisor position in Oak Park came during the Great Recession, at a time when finding work was difficult for many. “It was a formative experience at a best-in-class district that became a launching point for my career. That first job became a home away from home,” he said.

A graduate of Oak Park and River Forest High School, Leiner said he believed college wasn’t for him until he became a supervisor in Oak Park and realized that a degree would propel his career forward. He graduated from the University of Phoenix with a degree in business in 2014.

His leadership style hinges on empowering people, giving them the opportunity to innovate, and never micromanaging. “When you are a laborer or supervisor, you can become the star player in your area,” he said. “But when you graduate to higher levels of leadership, you stop being a star player and you start being a coach.”

Pending major projects for the Northbrook Park District include upgrades at Meadowhill Aquatic Center and the renovation of the Leisure Center. Leiner said he’s looking forward to working with the board to set the district’s strategic focus, leading collaboration among staff divisions, and finding opportunities to partner with other units of local government to judiciously manage taxpayer resources.

Working in parks and recreation has been immensely rewarding, Leiner said, because it’s given him an opportunity to help shape formative memories for the community.

“Whether it’s playgrounds, pools, parks or golf courses,” he said, “you are bringing joy to people.”