Recipient Biography

Ernest William Nance


Ernest William Nance (1934-2012) was an accomplished park and recreation professional in the field. His first job was as a recreation supervisor for the Skokie Park District, Skokie, Illinois. He received his bachelor degree in recreation and outdoor education from Southern Illinois University in 1962. He served as the CEO of park and recreation agencies throughout his 40-year career. His first director position was for the Mundelein Recreation and Park District in Illinois where he received a sabbatical to complete his Masters degree in park and recreation administration from Indiana University in 1967.


He was the first director for the Naperville Park District, Naperville, Illinois which won the National Gold Medal for Excellence in 1972. He co-authored the park/school donation ordinance that resulted in developers providing thousands of acres of parks to the community. He also established neighborhood park advisory committees. He then served the Park Ridge Recreation and Park District, Park Ridge, Illinois as director then moved on to become director of the Park District of Highland Park, Highland Park, Illinois and won the National Gold Medal in 1980. Highland Park was also part of the group that won the Gold Medal for service to disabled the same year.


He joined the Dallas Park and Recreation Department in 1982 as Assistant Director. The Department won the Gold Medal for services to disabled in 1984 and the National Gold Medal for Excellence in Park and Recreation Administration in 1985. He received the City Manager Excellence Award in 1986. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed Director of the Dallas Health and Human Services Department where he created the Office of Senior Services. He served as Director of Parks and Recreation for Hartford CT where he became aquatinted with the Olmstead parks legacy before returning to Illinois. He served as the first Executive Director of the Illinois Conservation, Park and Recreation Foundation and then joined the Oak Lawn Park District as the Director retiring in 1997. While there, he was responsible for establishing the Oak Lawn Parks Foundation and creating the Eagle Eye Neighborhood Park Watch program.


Mr. Nance received the Garrett Eppley Award from Indiana University in 1982 and was named the first distinguished recreation alumni at Southern Illinois University in 1987. He was president of Illinois Park and Recreation Association, chair of the Illinois Park and Recreation Foundation, chair of Great Lakes Regional Council, Past President of Texas Parks Foundation, a Texas Recreation and Parks Society board member and Southwest Regional Council member. He served three terms as Trustee of the National Recreation and Park Association and was the first National Forum chair. He was also the first chair of the Trustee Committee on Leisure and Aging.


He was honored by Illinois Park and Recreation Association with the first Robert Artz Award for Distinguished Service (1979) and Fellow Award (1992). He was a Fellow of the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration (Elected 1991). He received the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal (1997) in recognition of his efforts to advance the park, recreation and conservation movement and for his success in preserving environmentally and historically significant properties, advocating programs for older adults, obtaining a landmark open space dedication program, involving and working with citizen committees, development of public art programs and development of revenue based programs and the marketing of fee based activities throughout his career.


Nance retired to South Carolina in 1997 and was appointed Director of the Georgetown County Parks and Recreation Department. While there he was successful in reorganizing the department, adopting a plan, overcoming a deficit, establishing a fund balance, obtaining a dedicated recreation tax levy, increasing the budget three-fold, obtaining grants in excess of two million dollars, increasing land holdings by 260% to over six hundred acres including acquisition of 12 new neighborhood parks out in the county and the expansion of six other parks,  working with several organizations, identified and improved twelve miles of bike paths(which will become part of the East Coast Bikeway), converted a bridge into a fishing pier, assumed responsibility for 76 beach access areas and 23 boat landings accessing state funds for improvements. Recreation programs grew by over 300%. Entered into joint agreements for services with governmental bodies, private foundations and organizations, expanding leisure opportunities to all of the county. Retiring for the second time five years later, he was recognized for his vision and accomplishments by County Council resolution. A county resident made the following observation about Nance: “ In just six years in Georgetown, Ernie Nance has demonstrated that possibilities exist for a community; even a rural, low-income county can work together to create places that meet the recreational needs of everyone. Under Mr. Nance’s guidance, members of every segment of Georgetown County, from the County Seat to the most remote crossroads participated in decisions about the best uses of public spaces. He took the joke out of the phrase, “ Hello, I’m from government and I’m here to help you.”