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  • David A.F. Sweet

Former Parks & Rec Director Fred Jackson Stays Engaged with Successful Golf Fundraiser

By David A. F. Sweet Fred Jackson worked for the Lake Forest Parks & Recreation Department for 48 years. At the start, he was a teenager cleaning the gym floor; he retired as the director of Parks & Rec. In 2001, the Friends of the Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Foundation started the Fred Jackson Golf Classic – sometimes referred to as the Fred Jackson Not Yet Memorial Tournament. Though it was canceled that September because of 9/11, everyone who signed up said the foundation could keep the money – more than $10,000. It has been a hit ever since and serves as the foundation’s biggest fundraiser. Lake Forest Love sat down for lunch with Fred at the Sandwedge Grill at Deerpath Golf Course to talk about the tournament (slated for June 2 this year), his days at Parks & Rec and why his father told him never to go into the recreation business. How did your golf tournament begin? It had an interesting start. I complained to the Lake Forest mayor in the 1980s that the Chicago Bears weren’t doing enough for the community. Jim Finks of the Bears said he couldn’t give us the 150 free tickets I asked for to go to a game because (owner) George Halas didn’t give away tickets, but he agreed to do a golf tournament. The Chamber of Commerce started a tournament with the Bears but dropped it after a few years.

"The idea is to laugh and have fun," says Fred Jackson about his eponymous golf tournament. After I helped start the Friends of Lake Forest Parks and Recreation Foundation, I had two major goals: fundraising and awareness. The first thing was to set up a golf tournament in 2001. Have your goals been met? The tournament has raised about a half a million dollars for the foundation and brought awareness to Parks and Rec. What will this year’s tournament be like? The idea is to laugh and have fun. There will be trivia questions on each hole, such as, “How many of truckloads of sand were delivered to the renovated beach in 1986?” We should have 120 players again this year – that’s all we can take because of how many carts we have. My five grandsons, daughter and two sons are coming up – first time they’ve all been to a tournament at the same time. Tell me about being drafted for the Vietnam War. I took the train to Chicago for the physical. I drank six cups of coffee before I went in – I had never had coffee before. When he took my blood pressure, he said, “Son, you better sit down – you’re going to have a stroke!” They ended up rejecting me. But then I thought, “What am I going to do with my life?” After Lake Forest College you weren’t a fan of business school, but you worked part-time at Parks & Recreation and eventually joined full-time in 1969. What did your Dad think? My father never pushed me into one career or another, but he said, “Don’t go into recreation – there’s no money in it.” I didn’t understand why he’d say that. Later I found some board minutes from 1928. His name was in it. He made 75 cents an hour as a lifeguard for the department. You started in a building behind the old Marshall Field’s and then moved the center into the former police and fire building (Le Colonial today). What changes did you make? We turned the firefighter’s bedroom area and its wooden floor into a dance studio. We made a teen center where bands would play on Friday night. They painted peace signs on the wall – I thought I’d be tarred and feathered for that. The referendum for today’s building passed in the 1970s, and you were asked to design the $985,000 structure. What happened? I got Byron Prais in the building department to help. We basically ended up with no storage space, and the gym was smaller than we wanted, but we brought it in for less than $40 per square foot. It brought us a lot of respectability. Before we were known as the poor man’s club – those who couldn’t join a country club came to the Rec Center. But when Clement Stone’s daughter joined one of our classes – I knew then we had established credibility with the entire community. If you stop by the Recreation Center on Hastings Road, just inside the main entrance, you will see one of Fred's most significant accomplishments: The National Recreation & Park Association Gold Medal Award, presented to Lake Forest Parks & Recreation in 2008. You will also find a plaque with his resemblance recognizing his 30 years of dedication to the community. So although he's been retired for several years, he always has an eye on what's happening at the Recreation Center.

Learn more about the Fred Jackson Golf Classic.


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