Local memorial service set for May 4 at Evanston Golf Course
Funeral services will be held March 2 in Naples, Florida, for Donald Joseph Wirth, 86, a former Evanston parks/forestry and recreation director who guided the department for nearly a quarter of a century.
During his tenure from 1971 to 1995, Wirth was credited with spearheading a number of major projects for the city, such as developing the Evanston lakefront (including construction of South Boulevard Beach); building two community centers (Robert Crown and Chandler-Newberger); and creating the Noyes Cultural Arts Center.
Wirth also played a key role in a number of other projects, such as a community theater, an ice arena and the Ladd Memorial Arboretum and Evanston Ecology Center, all while managing 80 parks across the city.
He also oversaw the development of school-based programs, free recreation and arts programs and sports and social programs for all ages, family members noted in his obituary.
“Don was passionate about improving the lives of others in his community through accessible public spaces of recreation and leisure,” the family wrote.
Along with his Evanston post, he held positions in parks and recreation administration in Brookfield, Wisconsin, and Naples, Florida.
Throughout his career, he received various accolades from the National Recreation and Park Association for his commitment to the profession.
‘A vision of what parks and recreation services can be’
Wirth, in a private role as a board member of the Peter Jans Community Golf Course (now Canal Shores), was able to persuade golf course officials to contribute a parcel of land that proved key to construction of the Chandler (now Chandler-Newberger) Center.
In the 1980s, when increasing community focus was on addressing an emerging street gang presence, he responded, helping shift emphasis to more scholarships and fee-assisted programs.
When he stepped down from his position in Evanston in 1995, then-City Manager Eric Anderson noted that Wirth’s achievements went beyond any specific program or single achievement.
“He has created a legacy, a vision of what our parks and recreation services can and should be,” Anderson said. “His vision will guide our efforts and provide benefits to Evanstonians for decades to come.”
Evanston resident Martha Logan started a nearly three-decade career with the city in 1989, working as an information specialist in the Recreation Department under Wirth.
‘Steady, compassionate leader’
She recalled him as “a steady, compassionate leader who loved Evanston. He worked hard to bring recreational opportunities to residents of all ages and abilities. His legacy lives on in the many buildings and programs that enrich our lives.”