One of the most well-known members of one of the least spotlighted governing bodies in Waterloo is retiring after 20 years of service.
Joann Harlin attended her final Waterloo Park District meeting as a park board member on April 14 after she decided not to run for re-election this year.
“My 20 years on the park board has definitely been a learning experience,” she told the Republic-Times. “There have been ups and downs with (the) realization you can’t please everyone. My decision not to run was bittersweet.”
A lifelong Waterloo resident, Harlin first won election to the board in 2001 after she decided to run because she believed “farming and green space” were important components to raising her family.
When she won election, Harlin already had a project in mind.
While working as a preschool teacher, she taught her students about veterans by visiting the veterans memorial in Red Bud.
After making that trip, she decided she wanted Waterloo to have its own veterans memorial.
“As a park board commissioner, I proposed the initial veterans memorial in Lakeview Park, which required proposing a plan and securing donations from local organizations and individuals,” Harlin recounted. “The plan included coming up with a design, a site for the memorial, the type of stone – Missouri Red to signify the loss of life for our freedom – the wording for the stones, military emblems and the eagle on top of the main stone. The walkway to the veterans monument is aligned with individual granite veteran pavers, which continues to grow annually in recognition of all veterans.”
The memorial won an Illinois Governor’s Hometown Award in 2006.
In addition, Harlin, who has served as vice president and president of the park district board in her tenure, said highlights of her service included celebrating the 60th anniversary of the park district in 2016, helping to prepare the grant that helped make Zimmer Park possible, adding amenities like pavilions, restrooms, playgrounds and disc golf to the parks.
The park district has also created a skate park and dog park while Harlin worked on the board.
Harlin stressed all this was done “while remaining fiscally responsible.”
“There is a lot of history and dedication in establishing, building and maintaining our beautiful parks,” she said. “We rely on our hard working, conscientious employees that are dedicated to keeping our parks maintained and beautiful.”
Even with all those successes, there were a few challenges the park district and Harlin had to overcome in the last two decades – including referendums failing and lawsuits from neighbors of the new skate park who did not like the noise and light.
“The defeat of numerous referendums to maintain an aged pool and attempts to build a new pool facility (and) the skate park lawsuit (were) a very frustrating time,” she said.
Those difficulties, however, were not why Harlin retired.
She said she made that tough choice because she wants to spend more time with her family and travel more.
Although she has stepped down from the board, Harlin plans to remain involved with the veteran pavers program.
She also said community members will see her out “enjoying our beautiful parks and amenities with grandkids and family.”
Harlin thanked her husband, community organizations, the city and residents overall for all their support for the park district over the years.