Forest Park Forever Elects New Board Chairman and Directors & Bestows 2015 Keeper of the Park Award

Mayor Slay, Park leaders and Forest Park Forever community members celebrate, look back and preview the year ahead

ST. LOUIS, February 3, 2015 — Forest Park Forever has elected three new members to its Board of Directors, elected a new Board Chairman and bestowed its prestigious Kathryn Nelson Keeper of the Park Award. The selections were announced at the organization’s annual Keeper of the Park Award Luncheon & Community Address, held on January 26 at the Park’s Dennis & Judith Jones Visitor and Education Center.

The event was attended by more than 100 members of the Forest Park Forever staff and volunteer community, along with City officials — including Mayor Slay, new Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Greg Hayes and Aldermen Lyda KrewsonScott OgilvieJoe Roddy and Craig Schmid — and partners from Forest Park institutions.

The event began with the introduction of the newest members of FPF’s Board of Directors, who were elected in a voting Board meeting earlier that morning. These Board members are: 

Cynthia Brinkley 
Cynthia Brinkley is Executive Vice President, International Operations & Business Integration, for Centene Corporation. She currently sits on the boards of the Missouri History Museum and the National Oasis Institute. Cynthia has also served as Deputy Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, as Co-Chair of the University of Missouri Billion Dollar Fundraising Campaign, as Chair of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, as Chair of the Hawthorn Foundation of Missouri and as Co-Chair of the Missouri Governor’s Business Education Roundtable.

Robert P. Ciesla
Robert P. Ciesla is Vice President of the Boeing Military Aircraft (BMA) 777X Program. In this role, he is responsible for the leadership and overall program management of all military and commercial offload within BMA. Before coming to St. Louis, Ciesla was Vice President of Airlift in BMA’s Mobility division and Program Manager for the C-17 Globemaster III program in Long Beach, Calif., a city where he was also very involved in the nonprofit community.

Richard J. Liekweg 
Richard J. Liekweg, who will join the Board this July, is Executive Vice President of BJC HealthCare, responsible for advancing operational and clinical excellence across all of BJC’s hospitals, service organizations and shared services departments. He serves on several professional and community boards including the University Healthsystem Consortium, the Association of American Medical Colleges Council of Teaching Hospitals and the St. Louis College of Pharmacy.

These three leaders join The Laclede Group President and CEO Suzanne Sitherwood as the most recent new Board of Directors members. Sitherwood was elected during August 2014. 

"This is such an exciting time for the Forest Park Forever Board," said Board Chairman Thomas R. Collins. "With the addition of Bob, Cynthia, Rich and Suzanne — each one an impressive and dynamic regional leader — we are poised for an exceptional coming decade. Forest Park and Forest Park Forever will gain so much from their insights and service." 

Following lunch, Immediate Past Board Chairman Steve Finerty welcomed Tom Collins to the podium as the recently elected new Board Chairman. Together, Collins and Forest Park Forever President and Executive Director Lesley S. Hoffarth honored Finerty's service — with a custom-made hourglass from St. Louis' own Third Degree Glass Factory — and that of retiring Board members Mel BrownGary Bess, Jim Snowden and Susan Veldt. 

Mayor Francis Slay took the stage next, noting the important role Forest Park plays in St. Louis’ great quality of life and the strong partnership the City has with Forest Park Forever. Mayor Slay lauded the 18 years of service of former Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Gary Bess and welcomed his successor, Greg Hayes.  

Forest Park Forever Board Chairman Tom Collins then announced the 2015 Kathryn Nelson Keeper of the Park Award, which since 2002 has recognized individuals or organizations that have demonstrated exceptional energy and creativity for the benefit of Forest Park. The annual award is named for the late Kathryn Nelson, who co-chaired the Forest Park Master Planning process and served on Forest Park Forever's Board of Directors. The 2015 award recipient is: 

Gary Bess
Gary Bess served as the City of St. Louis’ Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry for 18 years, retiring at the close of 2014. During his tenure, Gary helped set the vision for how Forest Park would be rebuilt, co-chaired the Master Plan process, set up the Forest Park Advisory Board and in 2011 helped secure the first Maintenance Cooperation Agreement, which brought Forest Park Forever into the decision-making process for the Park while stabilizing City dollars to help maintain it. While implementing millions of dollars in capital improvements for Forest Park, Gary has always been an invaluable advocate for Forest Park Forever. His impact on Forest Park and our organization will last for many decades to come. 

For the final segment of the event, Forest Park Forever President and Executive Director Lesley Hoffarth walked attendees through a recap of the key 2014 accomplishments of Forest Park Forever and its City partners, a preview of what's to come in 2015 and a charge for expanding the organization's base of support in the coming years.

Among the 2014 highlights

  • Completing the new $1.1 million wayfinding system in Forest Park 
  • Reconstructing much of the Park's popular Dual Recreational Path 
  • Installing a new irrigation system in Shakespeare Glen
  • Breaking ground on the new $3 million Festival & Parking Plaza at the Upper Muny
  • Completing $100,000+ in essential maintenance at the Emerson Grand Basin
  • Resurfacing the Variety Wonderland Playground 
  • Planting 900 new trees from Forest ReLeaf in the Forest Park Nature Reserves
  • 1,100+ volunteers working 11,600 hours in Forest Park, for an equivalent contribution of $263,000
  • Raising $20,000 for the Park through Major Brands' Restaurants for Restoration program
  • Welcoming huge crowds into the Park for stl250's Burn in Love, Fair Saint Louis, the Great Forest Park Balloon Glow & Race, LouFest and more
  • Achieving a weekly Forest Park Trolley ridership of 3,200, up 18% from 2013
  • Engaging more than 1,800 students in Forest Park Forever-supported educational activities
  • Relaunching (and doubling the online contributions for the year)
  • Publishing Statues & Monuments of Forest Park  

In previewing 2015 for Forest Park, Hoffarth spoke about the summer completion of the Festival & Parking Plaza, improvements to four Park restrooms, the 25th anniversary of the popular 'Hat' Luncheon and much more.

"This is a pivotal year for Forest Park Forever and Forest Park," Hoffarth said. "Forest Park is more beloved than ever, with 13 million visitors each year coming here to celebrate and play, relax and have fun, learn and discover. With increased use comes an ever-greater need for private dollars to support this treasure, so that it never slips back into disrepair. We look forward to again partnering with the City to complete several Park improvement projects, while expanding our base of member and donor support to secure Forest Park's future."