Some paths take unexpected turns in life, leading us to extraordinary places. Belle Kolman’s journey at the Park District of Highland Park is a testament to this. Over three decades, she has witnessed and actively contributed to the evolution of her role and the organization. In this article, we explore Belle’s remarkable career, the experiences that have shaped her, and the enduring impact of her work with the Park District of Highland Park.
Belle’s journey with the Park District began when she and her family moved to Highland Park, seeking to supplement their income. Flexibility was crucial, as she had children to take care of. The opportunity came through a recommendation from the lady who sold them their house – a program at the Karger Center that allowed parents to drop in with their kids. Belle saw this as a perfect match for her needs, as she could bring her daughter along. Belle’s aspiration to become a child psychologist made this job even more appealing. She started at an hourly rate of $9, setting the stage for an incredible career ahead.
Belle’s first day at the Park District is etched in her memory due to a heartwarming encounter. She met a little girl who happened to be friends with her daughter. When the girl’s mother arrived to pick her up, she was visibly upset, facing a family emergency that prevented her from visiting her family because she had her daughter with her. Belle’s kindness shone through as she took the child home with her. In a twist of fate, Belle discovered that the child’s father was a Big Brother to her sister at the University of Illinois. This unexpected connection deepened the bonds of friendship.
Remarkable achievements have marked Belle’s journey at the Park District, one of the most significant being her role in starting programs from scratch. She was instrumental in creating programs like “Moms Morning Away,” “Terrific Times,” and a “Moms and Tots” program at the Recreation Center of Highland Park when it first opened, alongside “Camp Tot Stop.” These programs were built from the ground up, with Belle overseeing everything from curriculum development to securing necessary supplies.
One of the most cherished aspects of Belle’s work at the Park District is playing with the children. She often finds herself on the floor, giving the kids hugs and engaging in conversations. These interactions, spanning many years, have profoundly impacted Belle. The bonds formed and the joy she derives from these moments are unparalleled.
Over the past 30 years, Belle has witnessed significant changes in childcare. With increasingly stringent regulations and administrative requirements, the job has evolved substantially. The focus now lies on what’s considered more appropriate and mainstream, with parents becoming more vigilant and watchful. The world has transformed, and so has the work.
Belle has collected a trove of cherished memories throughout her journey with the Park District. She recalls being part of the “Touch a Truck” event and her playful role as Mrs. Potato Head for Halloween. The reunions with former students, including camp counselors, are moments of pride and nostalgia. Belle’s bonds with her colleagues and personal connections have been a source of immense happiness.
Belle’s incredible journey at the Park District is a testament to the passion, dedication, and love she brings to her work. Her remarkable career, marked by adaptability and unwavering commitment, is an inspiring example of the impact one person can make in the lives of children and families. As Belle continues to play an integral role at the Park District, her legacy is a testament to the organization’s enduring commitment to the community it serves.
Are you or your child/ren an alum of ParkSchool or one of Belle Kolman’s programs? Submit a memory or note to Belle here to celebrate her 30 years with the Park District of Highland Park!