Covering the Land of Lincoln

Champaign Park District Executive Director Joe DeLuce

Nov. 9—WEDNESDAY UPDATE: The Champaign Center Partnership today said Joe DeLuce, founder of the Parade of Lights and executive director of the Champaign Park District, will serve as grand marshal for the 22nd Parade of Lights on Nov. 26.

The son-in-law of a local radio legend who could be heard on WDWS for 40 years is closing in on a milestone of his own.

May will mark 25 years at the Champaign Park District — 17 as director of recreation, eight in his current role of executive director — for , the pride of Toronto, Ohio.

One half of one of CU’s power couples, the husband of Visit Champaign County President/CEO Jayne DeLuce earned his bachelor’s degree in recreation administration from Kent State in 1980 — and his master’s in the same field from the University of Illinois 21 years later.

The avid racquetball and pickleball player took time out to answer questions from Editor Jeff D’Alessio in the 110th installment of our weekly speed read on leaders of organizations big and small.

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Three words I hope my employees would use to describe me are … positive, caring and leader.

When it comes to role models… one of my favorites is Alvin Griggs, one of our former park board members. Al is someone who never met a stranger as he could talk to anyone.

We traveled to various parks and recreation conferences and spent a lot of time talking about everything.

Another role model is my father-in-law, Jim Turpin, who had an outstanding career in radio. He has been great to talk to about sports and life.

If I could trade places for a week with any other leader in town, I wouldn’t mind switching with … Bret Bielema. I have always wanted to be a football coach. Plus, he makes a pretty good salary.

My philosophy on meetings is … to only have them when they are really needed and try to keep them to a maximum of one hour.

My one unbreakable rule of the workplace is … don’t be afraid to fail. I would rather see employees try something new and fail than not to try at all.

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The hardest thing about being a leader is… I work hard to be as positive as possible, so dealing with negative people is very hard for me.

My single favorite moment of all-time in this job was… being offered the opportunity to lead the Champaign Park District as the executive director in December of 2013.

I can’t live without my… breakfast at The Original Pancake House. It has been a great place for meeting with friends and family and to hold business meetings.

On my office walls, you’ll find … pictures of Champaign Park District facilities like the Olympic and Paralympic Tribute in Dodds Park, pictures of participants in our programs, and pictures of my daughters participating in our programs when they were younger.

I wind down after work by … walking my dog, Milo, and playing racquetball. Both help with stress.

The most beneficial college classes I took were… all of my graduate classes in Recreation, Sport and Tourism at the University of Illinois.

It took me 18 years to go back to work on my master’s degree. It was a huge learning experience since I was older than most of the professors and students but I had a lot of experiences so the classes gave a new perspective on the parks and recreation profession.

I also went back a few years later to teach a class on Community Recreation at the U of I, which taught me more than any class that I took as a student.

Most nights, I’m up until … midnight. I am more of a night person than an early morning person.

As far as my exercise routine goes…my goal is to walk four to five miles per day and play racquetball and pickleball as much as possible.

The worst job I ever had was… painting houses during the summer for $1.50 per hour when I was in high school.

On a 1-to-10 scale, the impact of the pandemic has been a… 10. In 2020, we did not open the Sholem Aquatic Center or the Virginia Theater and had no large special events like the Taste of CU.

It was a really hard year not doing what we love to do every day.

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