Steve Messerli is living his life’s dream, a journey that began with boyhood curiosity when he would head into the Arizona desert from his family home in search of nature, wildlife and adventure.
His love of the outdoors and sports attracted him as a youth to the parks, recreation and conservation field -- a professional career that now spans over 40 years with work across the country. Fittingly, he began to sow the seeds at age 11 for what would become his life’s work, starting his own neighborhood landscaping business while also selling flower seeds door-to-door. Already, he was combining business acumen with his greatest passion, the outdoors – a driving trait that would come to serve him extremely well.
His Horatio Alger-type professional career began in 1969 with the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia (1969-80), where as a seasonal employee he “cleaned every restroom in the system,” and learned to drive a Zamboni while managing an indoor sports complex. While in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Steve held the position of Manager of Special Facilities for the Department of Parks and Recreation (1981–86). He went on to serve more than five years in San Bernardino County, California, as the Director of Regional Parks and the Director of Infrastructure (1986–91). He was Executive Director of the Lake County Forest Preserve District, Illinois, for 13 years. In 1999, the District was voted winner of the National Gold Medal award; through his leadership, the District became the second largest forest preserve system in Illinois. Since 2005, he has served as Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Fox Valley Park District in Illinois; in 2009, he led Fox Valley to the National Gold Medal award.
His active legislative advocacy at the state and national levels has resulted in more than $40 million of specific congressional or Illinois General Assembly actions that directly benefited the agencies he directed. Through Steve’s leadership and ability to implement community visions, five successful referenda totaling over $250 million have been passed -- with an average 65% voter approval rate for all capital bond referenda.
Steve became an elected member of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration in 1995 and served on the Academy’s Board of Directors from 1997 to 2000, was elected Treasurer and chaired the National Gold Medal Awards transition committee. He served as President of the Academy in 2009.
Steve has earned a variety of awards throughout his career. In 1982, the American Park and Recreation Society selected him as the Outstanding Young Professional. In 1983, he was the recipient of the Garrett Epply Honors Award; in 1989, he was recognized by the American Business Women’s Association as Boss of the Year and received the Margaret King Gibbs Scholarship Award as the Outstanding Graduate Student in Public Administration. He was named the 1989 recipient of the Wall Street Journal Award for Exceptional Graduate Level Performance at the California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) School of Business and Public Administration. CSUSB also honored Steve in 2002 as recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2006, the Illinois Association of Park Districts recognized him with the Chairman’s Citation for excellence in leadership and legislative achievements. Steve completed his undergraduate studies in secondary education (Physical Education, Health and Biology) at East Tennessee State University with Cum Laude honors in 1975. He graduated from California State University with a Master of Public Administration in 1990. [updated 12/09]