Debbie Kopas retires as executive director of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District on June 30, but parks commissioners reminded her that they will see her handiwork throughout the community.
“You can drive through Homewood and Flossmoor and see what you’ve been a part of, what you’ve touched and accomplished,” said Commissioner Debbie Dennison. “We are so fortunate to have had you around.”
Kopas completed 32 years with the park district. She’s been the executive director since 2006.
“It’s truly my honor to serve the community,” she said acknowledging the support of the board, the community and the park district’s staff, both current and past members, who worked with her “to do really creative things. It’s really a privilege.”
The list of accomplishments is too long a list, but at the park board’s June 20 meeting commissioners recognized Kopas’ efforts to develop The Clubhouse at Dolphin Lake, develop Wiley’s Grill at Coyote Run Golf Course, and make many changes and updates to the Irwin Center, the Splash Pad, Lions Club Pool, Irons Oaks and numerous parks throughout the system. Her last major project was resurrecting the H-F Ice Arena after the refrigeration system failed in November 2021.
Another highlight under her leadership was the H-F Park District’s win in 2018 of a national Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management from the National Recreation and Park Association. It was the third time the park district won.
Whether a project was big or small, Kopas always looked at what it’s value would be to the community. There were tough decisions, such as closing Dolphin Lake Pool at 183rd Street and Governors Highway.
Commissioner Steve Johnson said the first year he was elected, the board was asked to close the pool. That “was a very difficult decision, but we looked to your leadership and eventually it turned into The Clubhouse, which is awesome. It’s a no-brainer now, but at the time it was a hard decision,” he said.
Dennison was at the public meeting about closing Dolphin Lake Pool. She remembers how prepared Kopas and the board members were.
“You did your homework with your unbelievable, awesome staff … It was a packed room and it just truly showed me what the park district was all about. I was blown away,” she recalled.
Commissioner Brent Bachus said, “You give everybody such a sense of comfort that everything’s always under control.” He’s sure Kopas was nervous about decisions, but she exuded confidence and calm.
Kopas came to the park district as a part-time accountant. She remembers getting a positive vibe about the organization right from the beginning.
“I was sitting in the waiting room in the building that’s not there now. It’s the Skate Park. Every person that walked by said ‘Hi’ or asked how I was doing. I thought ‘Wow! I think I want to work here,’ and it’s still true today. Thank you to everybody who supported me along the way, the great supportive team on Tuesday nights (at board meetings) and all the board presidents throughout my career.”
Kopas’s record during her tenure is attending 354 of 356 board meetings of the Homewood-Flossmoor Park District.
In her honor, the park board established the Debbie Kopas Memorial Scholarship offered to a Homewood-Flossmoor High School student who plans to go into parks and recreation as a career, or who has made notable contributions to the parks. The first $500 scholarship was awarded to Makenzie Russell of Homewood, one of the few girls who played in the boys hockey league at the H-F Ice Arena.