Progressive dinner to celebrate 125th anniversary of state’s oldest park district

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

The Glen Oak Park Pavilion sits in the Peoria Park District’s oldest park. Glen Oak Park will be the venue of a unique progressive dinner on June 22 to celebrate the park district’s 125th anniversary. (Photo courtesy of the Peoria Park District)

Illinois’ oldest park district is throwing an anniversary party with a unique progressive dinner designed to showcase the district’s past, present and future.

Themed “Back to the Future,” the Peoria Park District’s 125th anniversary celebration will take place June 22 at Glen Oak Park, which is the oldest of the district’s many parks.

“I really hope people will enjoy this unique experience,” said Emily Cahill, the park district’s executive director. “I hope people will use the evening as an opportunity to understand the impact the Peoria Park District has had in our community.”

Established in 1894, the Peoria Park District now oversees more than 9,000 acres of parks and open spaces in the Peoria area.

“This kind of a really focused evening about supporting the park district and our past, present and future is new to us, but I think it’s going to be pretty fabulous,” Cahill said.

At a cost of $125 per person, the progressive dinner is for adults only. A concert following the dinner, which is included in the price, will be open to all ages, however.

The dinner will begin at 5 p.m. at Luthy Botanical Gardens with appetizers, drinks and entertainment. “Luthy celebrates the past and our rich history. People will essentially enjoy a garden party there,” Cahill said.

The next stop will be the Peoria Zoo for dinner and games. “We have putt-putt and some other games that tie into miniature versions of things we offer in the park district,” Cahill said. “The zoo represents the present, so we’ll try to highlight all the things we do now in the community.”

From the zoo, partygoers will move forward to the Peoria Playhouse Children’s Museum, which will represent the park district’s future. “There, people will get dessert, and, if they choose, they can sit on the playhouse porch and watch the community concert,” Cahill said.

Cracked Pepper will cater appetizers and dinner, while The Chef and the Baker will provide dessert.

The evening will conclude with the concert in the park’s middle grassy area. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. with performances by indie-rock duo Illiterate Light and local band Cole Hollow, followed by the Grammy-nominated headliner, The Record Company.

Tickets for just the concert without the dinner are $15. Concert tickets can be purchased in advance through the park district or at the door. Dinner tickets must be purchased in advance.

The event is designed to be casual with guests moving from one venue to the next at their own pace. “We are providing enough overlap so that you can take your time at each location,” Cahill said.

People will have the option of walking between venues, which are all within Glen Oak Park, or they can use golf cart assistance.

“At the end of the night, we’ll be able to get people from the playhouse back to their cars at Luthy, and in the interim we can get people from place to place,” Cahill said.

Local business Branson Overnights, owned by Jen and Casey Faulkner, has painted and hidden this rock in one of the Peoria Park District’s many parks. The finder will win a $200 Visa gift card and two tickets to the June 22 concert at Glen Oak Park. Clues are posted on the Branson Overnights Facebook page. (Photo courtesy of Branson Overnights)

Cahill hopes the event will remind people what a gem the Peoria Park District is. “If you

live in Peoria, I think you take this park district for granted a little bit, and you think every community must have these kind of amenities,” she said.

“The reality is we are very unique. The depth and breadth of services that we are able to offer is really not like other communities of our size across the country. So to really celebrate the impact the park district has had in the past and has now and will have in the future is, I think, a very unique thing to be a part of.”

Net proceeds from the event will go to the park district’s legacy fund, which helps support ongoing maintenance of its parks and trails.

The park district is also hosting an online raffle for a chance to win 125 days of fun with the Peoria Park District, including day passes, memberships and cultural festival tickets. Raffle tickets start at $10 for one.

A local business, Branson Overnights owned by Jen and Casey Faulkner, is also sponsoring a rock hunt to help celebrate the  park district’s 125th anniversary. A painted Branson, Mo.-themed rock has been hidden in one of the park district’s many parks. The finder will win a $200 Visa gift card and two tickets to the June 22 concert at Glen Oak Park. Clues are posted on the Branson Overnights Facebook page.

Park district staff also have been brainstorming mascot ideas, which may eventually be put out for public input. “We’ve talked about everything from a bumblebee to an owl to a tree. There’s also an acorn that some people either love or hate. The staff are voting and from there, we will bring finalists to the community,” Cahill said.

The park district employs about 140 full-time staff and another 600 to 650 part-time and seasonal staff.

As far as highlights and changes over the park district’s first 125 years, Cahill said,  “Obviously the demands of a community for recreational experiences has changed. I think programming is a place we’ve seen a lot of change and a place where we’ve seen increased competition, which is really good and healthy, but it’s figuring out how do we continue to evolve and meet the needs of our community in that public space.”

Looking to the future, Cahill added, “I certainly hope we find a way for people to still value unplugging from technology and going outside and walking on the trails and taking care of nature.”

For more information about the progressive dinner or to buy tickets, visit the Peoria Park District’s website site at or the park district’s Facebook page or call 309-682-1200.