May 28, 2021 at 5:34pm

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With a 28-year legacy of leadership, conservation and a commitment to improving her community through recreation, Northbrook Park District Commissioner Penelope Randel has retired.

A Northbrook resident since 1979, Randel was elected to the board in 1993 and served twice as vice president from 1994-1997 and 2015-2017. She also served twice as president from 1997-1998 and again from 2017-2020. Randel ties with Edward J. Rudolph as the longest serving member of the board, who served from 1947-1975.

Randel attended her last meeting as a commissioner May 26, 2021.

During Randel’s time on the board, she worked with four executive directors and 21 different commissioners, focusing on the expansion of recreation opportunities in Northbrook and the acquisition of open space. This included 60 acres of land that would become one of Northbrook Park District’s largest recreation areas—Techny Prairie Park and Fields, home to Techny Prairie Activity Center and Anetsberger Golf Course. Throughout her tenure as a commissioner, more than 125 acres of land were acquired by the District.

“A major aspect of the Northbrook Park District’s mission is to preserve open space, and Penny has been instrumental in making that happen,” said Executive Director Molly Hamer. “She has volunteered a great deal of time and energy to this cause through serving on committees, advocating for open space, talking to people and sharing her talents with the community in a variety of ways.”

Photo: Penelope Randel Portrait

Advocacy for the preservation and creation of spaces for the community to enjoy has long been important to Randel, even before she became a commissioner. In 1984, she was influential in helping  pass a referendum for the Park District to purchase the former Indian Ridge School, which would become the Northbrook Park District Leisure Center and Indian Ridge Park. Randel also played a major role in Northbrook O.P.E.N., a citizens group that successfully passed the referendum to purchase the formerly private facility, Sportsman’s Country Club—now Heritage Oaks Golf Club, and Wood Oaks Green Park. As a board member, Randel was also actively involved in the addition of Floral Park, Greenview Park and Stonegate Park.

“She has had a big impact on the acquisition or development of almost every park in the community,” said Northbrook Park District Board President Mary Ann Chambers. “Northbrook Park District residents have a better quality of life thanks to Penny’s time, energy and passion for parks.”

When passing the presidential gavel to Chambers in June 2020, Randel said she considered the construction of Techny Prairie Activity Center and the renovations of Heritage Oaks Golf Club to be among the Northbrook Park District’s greatest accomplishments in recent years.

“Penny has actively and enthusiastically supported acquisition of land for parks, active recreation, trails, and open space,” Chambers said. “She has been a consistent voice for environmental and financial stewardship.”

A retired educator, Randel and her husband raised two children in Northbrook, Jessica and Barret. She served on the District 30 School Board from 1984 to 1989 and has served on the District 30 Caucus as well as the League of Women Voters, the Downtown Northbrook Redevelopment Task Force and the Northbrook Civic Foundation. Other community service contributions include serving on the Board of Directors of Northbrook Bank and Trust and working as a volunteer for Chicago Botanical Gardens.

Along with serving as a Commissioner for the District, she has volunteered with Illinois Association of Park Districts (IAPD), serving as chair of several committees including Distinguished Agency Accreditation. While serving as a trustee for the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) from 1995-2007, Randel traveled to Washington D.C., participating in legislative forums and acting as a mentor to other park district professionals nationally and statewide. She also served as the secretary to the NRPA Board of Trustees from 2002-2006.

“Penny’s perspective is invaluable, from the national and the statewide experience to her connection to her own community,” Hamer said. “She listens and learns, is open minded, and believes in the mission of the Northbrook Park District.”

In 2017, the Illinois Association of Park Districts recognized Randel for her accomplishments and commitment to public service, awarding her the prestigious IAPD Mike Cassidy Commissioner Community Service Award, given to outstanding people in the field of parks and recreation. Randel was also awarded the 2006 Meritorious Award by the American Park and Recreation Society, now the National Park and Recreation Association.

“Penny knows how to get serious work done and have fun doing it,” Hamer said. “Working with Penny has been an inspiration. She does her homework, asks great questions, draws on her wealth of experience and stands by her beliefs. She will be missed on the board but will remain a friend always.”

The Mission of the Northbrook Park District is to enhance the community by providing outstanding services, parks and facilities through environmental, social and financial stewardship.