40 Under 40 The Class of 2016

Laura Walsh

Project Manager, Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management; Age 37

Laura Walsh

Laura Walsh

“Recreation is such a huge part of our lives,” said Laura Walsh, “but sometimes we overlook how important it is.”

Walsh, on the other hand, appreciates the value of recreation more than most. As a project manager with the Springfield Department of Parks, Buildings and Recreation Management, she oversees park renovations from the grant-application process through final construction. Her career is also a striking example of coming full circle in life.

Born and raised in the Forest Park neighborhood, Walsh studied recreation administration and outdoor therapeutic recreation at Aurora University in Illinois, then brought those skills to camp programs throughout the U.S. and Ireland. But she had an itch to come home — right around the time Springfield was looking to hire someone to oversee the renovation of Forest Park’s Camp STAR Angelina into an accessible park for people of all abilities.

“That’s the reason I came to the Parks Department,” she said. “I fell in love with the campground and what it does for kids with disabilities; it gives them an outlet to be a kid and play and have fun in a world that’s inclusive and meets their needs. That really is a passion of mine — to make our parks and open spaces more accessible to everyone.”

The new Camp STAR Angelina was dedicated last June, but is only one of a growing number of projects Walsh has overseen, including redevelopment efforts at North Riverfront Park, Nathan Bill Park, Mary Troy Park, and Balliet Park. Her next construction-management job will be the development of South Branch Park — to be renamed Sgt. Thomas Sullivan Park — which will include an accessible kayak launch, reflecting yet another of her passions.

“I love kayaking,” she said. “You’re on the water, surrounded by nature. It’s a great way to escape the business of life.”

More often, though, Walsh is fully engaged with her community, as a Forest Park Civic Assoc. board member and a volunteer with the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp in Connecticut, the Read-a-Loud program in Forest Park schools, the Red Cross, and several other organizations. She said her civic involvement comes naturally, having grown up with two parents on Springfield’s City Council (her mother, Kateri Walsh, still serves).

“It’s something ingrained in us,” she said. “If you want to see positive change, you should take an active part in your community and try to make things better.”

— Joseph Bednar

Photography by Leah Martin Photography