Chesterton Tribune



Park Superintendent Bruce Mathias, a man for all seasons, retires

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You’ve probably seen him tooling around town in his custom Chicago Bears VW Beetle. He’s the one with the California vibe, easy and breezy and always with a good word for everyone.

Bruce Mathias, after 27 years as superintendent of the Chesterton Parks & Rec Department, is retiring today. Not coincidentally, it’s his wife’s birthday. “I chose Cindy’s 65th birthday to retire,” he says. “It seemed fitting somehow. Landmarks for both of us.”

Mathias succeeded the long-serving Bob Waskum in the position--they named a park after the guy--so you know he had big shoes to fill. Yet he had only a tiny budget to do it with. Back then, Mathias recalls, he had maybe $100,000 per year to maintain the parks, service the equipment, pay his employees, and run the summer children’s program. And year after year, during the annual budget workshop in July, as a Chesterton Tribune reporter can testify to, Clerk-Treasurer Gayle Polakowski typically opened any discussion of Mathias’ budget with the words “Sorry, Bruce.”

The park budget isn’t quite the orphan it used to be. But the game-changer was, at the Park Board’s urging, the Town Council’s willingness to issue a pair of park bonds, with the proceeds from which Mathias has supervised a virtual renaissance: brand-new ADA compliant playground equipment at every venue, new basketball and tennis courts at Chesterton Park and Waskum Park, a new restroom at Dogwood Park, the hugely popular splash pad at Chesterton Park, and the boxcar restroom in Thomas Centennial Park.

“Even with the small budgets, I think the parks have grown every year,” Mathias says. “We always fixed something substantial every year. I think we did a real good job.”

Mathias is proudest of his work constructing Chesterton’s stretch of the Prairie Duneland Trail, from its terminus just off South 15th Street to Crocker and Ind. 149. “One of the best things was putting the bike trail in,” he says. “That was the key to connecting Dogwood Park to the rest of the town, because then they built the sidewalk down 23rd Street, which really ended up being just the first phase of the Westchester-Liberty Trail.”

There’s a seasonality to Mathias’ job, as there is to Street Commissioner John Schnadenberg’s. “Spring has always been a tough time, an in-between time,” Mathias says. “The grass is growing now. And yeah, it’s going to snow tomorrow, but the grass is still growing. The grass knows. And it’s starting to get shaggy. I never liked shaggy grass. So we’ve got to start cutting it. Then we have to open up the restrooms. With softball season starting, we have to work on keeping the weeds down. And then all the festivals start. And I would personally go to every single one of them, even if it was only for a few minutes, just to see that everything was done right.”

And so the seasons succeed one another. Autumn, with its color and sere. Christmas, so joyfully anticipated and celebrated by Mathias at Thomas Centennial. Winter, the dead time. For 27 years, Mathias has been a man for all seasons, and it’s his particular sensitivity to the seasons which perhaps persuaded him at last to retire. “A few years ago I lost three family members in less than a year,” he says. “And you realize, when you get to be 65, that 10 years go really fast, and all of a sudden you’re 75. I loved doing this job. I loved everything about it. But I want to do something different, something new.”

What exactly?

“I was told by Cindy not to do anything at all for a month,” Mathias says. “Then maybe I’ll start a small company for myself. I’ve got a couple of things to work out yet.”

Mathias says that he will miss most the rough-and-readiness of working for the Town of Chesterton, the problem-solving, and the friendships. Over the years he’s battled beavers and vandals, repaired flood damage at Coffee Creek Park, and buried a 28-ton concrete deadman’s slab to anchor the splash pad’s control vault, and never without Schnadenberg and Town Engineer Mark O’Dell by his side. “I’ve always had a lot of help from John and Mark. The camaraderie with those guys and with all the department heads, that’s been great.”







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