Staying the course of his predecessor, Neal McHenry, in creating new programs is the primary goal of the Paxton Park District’s new recreation director.
“My goal is to try to model that method and continue a great tradition we have here in Paxton at the park district on offering a large variety of options for the great folks here in Paxton and surrounding areas,” Cody Evans said. “Obviously a key part of being successful is making sure we do all the little things right to make sure that we have people wanting to come back.”
The Paxton native took over on Aug. 3.
“I have always really enjoyed my time both working and participating at the park district,” Evans said. “I got my start right here in Paxton and I have been forever grateful for that as it has really prepared me for my new role.”
Evans credits his past supervisors and mentors for the training and help they gave him over the years. “I would also like to say that my family had an important role in me making the decision,” he said. “The support I received from my family and even our friends has been nothing but great; it really made my decision that much easier as I have a strong support system.”
Evans got his start in parks in recreation in high school, holding several positions, including as a lifeguard/swim instructor in the summers of 2005 and 2006, kindergarten/first-grade basketball instructor during the winters from 2007 to 2012, aquatic supervisor in the summers of 2009 and 2010 and as maintenance supervisor during the summers from 2011 to 2015.
Evans graduated Paxton-Buckley-Loda in 2008 and went on to get his associate’s degree from Parkland College. From there he transferred to and graduated from Illinois State University with a bachelor's degree in Parks and Recreation Administration with a minor in Athletic Coaching. In college he held two internships, with both the Rantoul and Mahomet parks and recreation departments. During college at ISU, he worked part-time as an afterschool counselor for the Normal Parks and Recreation Department. When he graduated, he took a position with the Watseka school district as a study hall supervisor and coached both junior high and high school basketball for a year and a half. During the middle of the school year Evans was offered a position with the Champaign Park District, where he took over the youth sports coordinator position and held that for four years. In November 2019, he was promoted to a manager position as the Leonhard Recreation Center facility manager and held that position until late July 2020 as he resigned for the Paxton job.
“I think what I bring to the table is just my variety of experiences over the years,” Evans said. “I will never claim that I have it all figured out but I will say that I have had some great experiences that have prepared me for the job.”
Evans thinks that the situations he has experienced at his various places of employment have helped him to grow as a professional in his field. “Like many professions you have to be open-minded and willing to learn,” he said.
Evans describes himself as approachable and willing to listen. “I believe that it is my duty as well as others’ duty in the parks and recreation field to provide a fun, enjoyable and safe environment for everyone that attends our programs, facilities and parks,” he said. “In this field it is important to listen and get people's ideas on new activities because at the end of the day we do serve the community, and our community members will be the ones signing up for programs, so we have to be willing to venture out and listen to all ideas when they come our way. I am also a firm believer that we have to stay within our means, and sometimes certain things aren't always feasible, but we do have to weigh all of our options as well as thoroughly think things through before making a final decision.”
Evans intends to ensure that he and his staff continue their education to learn about trends in the field. “There is so much to learn, not just by the many districts and recreation departments here in Illinois, but all over the country as there are so many fun and innovative programs that take place,” he said.
Evans said it’s too early for him to say whether the park district should expand services to include managing or acquiring new recreational areas. “I have lived in Paxton my entire life, so I have used basically every facility/park that Paxton has to offer at some point in my life,” he said. “We are extremely lucky to have the many great facilities and parks that we currently have. Obviously if the opportunity came about to expand the board of commissioners and myself would have to discuss those opportunities. But for now I think we are in a good place and am thankful for that, but yes I think we have to always entertain those things if they were to come up.”
Evans intends to monitor the park district’s facilities to make improvements when needed. “For a small community, we are very fortunate to have really nice facilities and parks,” Evans said. “With my past experience working in a recreation center both as a youth sports coordinator and facility manager, I quickly learned that nothing is perfect. Just like a lot of things, it takes money to make sure to update and maintain things whether that be equipment, property or whatever it may be. Unfortunately that is just how it is, but I would say we are in a good spot here at Paxton.”
Evans feels that financially a park district can’t concentrate too heavily in one area. “We have to always be cognitive on how we are spending our money and we shouldn't focus all of our attention into just certain areas,” he said. “I think to be successful we have to do that and really focus on doing our best on making sound decisions on where we spend and how we spend.”
Evans and his wife, Missy, both play in various Paxton recreational leagues. Missy is the volleyball player in the family, enjoying both indoor and outdoor versions. Evans, on the other hand, sticks to basketball as he has played many seasons in the men's winter basketball league in town. One other activity the couple plays together is in the adult kickball league the past two years. “We have really enjoyed that time together as well,” he said.
The couple just had a little girl in June. ”She is a little young for things right now, but I am sure she will be in about everything when she is a little older,” Evans said.