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Sterba prepares to say goodbye: Open house planned for longtime park district director

September 25, 2018

ROCK FALLS – Former Coloma Township Park District Executive Director Mike Sterba’s retirement has been a gradual process, but his 44-year career officially comes to a close at the end of the year.

Sterba, 66, announced his plans to leave the park district in April, but still works on a few projects to help make for a smooth leadership transition. In June, the park board hired his successor, Rock Falls native Jedidiah Johnson.

Sterba said he has spent most of his time dealing with bond issues, the tax levy and the April election. Two board members, President John Sigel and Stacy Shipman, have expiring terms. Shipman finished the term of Wayne Walker, who resigned earlier this year.

The transition period has gone well and Sterba plans to be out of the park district entirely by Dec. 31. He doesn’t have set office hours and he receives no paychecks.

“We have an arrangement in which they pay my health insurance for the rest of the year in return for the work I’m still doing for them, and it’s worked well for both sides,” Sterba said.

The reality of Sterba’s retirement might set in at an open house planned for him as a more official goodbye to the park district. It will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Oct. 7 at the Candlelight Inn in Rock Falls.

“The open house was something my daughters wanted to do for me, so it’s going to be a combination of family and the community, and I’m really looking forward to it,” Sterba said.

His decision to retire was driven by a desire to spend more time with family. He’s a native of suburban Country Club Hills, and both his daughters live on the north side of Chicago. Sunny, 32, is an administrator at the University of Illinois-Chicago law school. She has a son, 4-year-old Kai. Shanae, 30, a professional dancer and choreographer, has a son, Jalen, who will turn 2 next month.

“I’m driving back and forth to Chicago a lot, but that’s OK, because it’s so special to be able to spend time with my daughters and grandkids,” he said.

Pulling away from the only professional job he’s ever known has been a bittersweet experience for Sterba. He has overseen the growth of a park district that had only one full-time employee when he started in 1974.

“There’s not as much stress, which is nice, but I did this job for 44 years and it’s been my life, so it’s hard to walk away when you want the successes to continue,” Sterba said.

That’s an attitude Sigel admires.

“Mike’s done a great job, and a lot of that is because for him it’s much more than a job – he really cares about the parks,” the board president said.

Sterba feels blessed in the knowledge, that after all of these years, he’s leaving with no regrets.

“There have been some bumps along the way, for sure, but I’m leaving here with a good feeling. I’ve had a great career, and the Rock Falls community has treated me very well.”

Sterba plans to still live in Rock Falls, and he will be visible in the community. He is on the boards at Whiteside County Housing Authority and Woodland Arts Academy and remains active in United Way.

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