Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners Announce Stewart’s Appointment

Jeff Stewart.jpg

The Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners has announced Deputy Director Jeff Stewart has been tapped to serve as the Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s next executive director. 

Following an executive session called to consider personnel matters during its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday night, the board voted unanimously to appoint Stewart to the position effective Sept. 21. This will follow the Sept. 20 departure of current Executive Director Jill Geller, who announced her resignation during the board’s July 24 meeting, and who accepted a position of Parks, Recreation, and Libraries Director for the city of Roseville, Calif.

“JCPRD has received national recognition, accolades, gold medals, and accreditations for our management of parks and recreation programs,” said Board Chair Steve Baru.  “That happens because we have talented staff. Because of the demonstrated talent we already have in house, we knew we wouldn’t need to look far to find our next leader. Jeff has proven his leadership skills as deputy director and the board saw him as a natural fit to step in  and fill the executive director position. We are lucky to have Jeff and his talents to lead the JCPRD into the future.” 

“Jeff has served our agency very well in his role as deputy director for the past 3½ years, and he’s certainly ready for this next step,” Geller said of the board’s action. “As the best park and recreation agency in the nation, JCPRD deserves the best executive director. There is no doubt that we have that in Jeff. Under his leadership, there are great times ahead for our organization. I will be watching, cheering for you, and celebrating JCPRD’s many successes from California.”

“I couldn’t be more honored and excited for the opportunity and trust to serve the Johnson County community as executive director for JCPRD,” Stewart said. “The future is very bright as we have the best team of dedicated professionals, commissioners, volunteers, and partners that are committed to building on our rich tradition of providing the best park and recreation services in the country.”  

Stewart began as JCPRD’s first-ever deputy director in April 2016.  He brought 22 years of previous professional parks and recreation experience, and had served as the director of the parks and recreation department for the city of Gardner since March of 2000.

As deputy director, Stewart has served as superintendent of JCPRD’s Administrative Services Division, providing oversight and support for all departments within the division. Additionally, he facilitated cooperative projects with area municipalities, made presentations to area groups, represented JCPRD on county committees and workgroups, and served as a JCPRD ambassador throughout the community.  He coordinated and oversaw implementation of the Legacy Plan, and worked on various special projects.  He also served as executive director in Geller’s absence.

Prior to his 16 years with the city of Gardner, Stewart worked for about two years as recreation specialist for the Independence, Kan., Recreation Commission, and about four years as assistant director of parks and recreation for the city of Junction City, Kan.

Stewart is a graduate of Kansas State University where he was a member of the Kansas State Baseball Team, and earned a bachelor of science degree in parks and recreation administration. He is a Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP), and has been recognized with the Kansas Recreation and Park Association’s (KRPA) Distinguished Professional Award. His leadership in the field includes three terms as a board member for the KRPA. He is a current member for the State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan Committee and the Kansas Recreation Park Association Professional Development Committee.

He previously served as chairperson for the Kansas City Metropolitan Area Parks and Recreation Directors Association, a member of the Midwest Regional Council Board of Directors, and as a member of KRPA’s Administration Branch Committee.  Locally, he continues to serve on the USD 231 Facilities and Planning Committee and as a volunteer coach to numerous youth athletic teams. He is also an active member of the Gardner Rotary Club.

Stewart’s wife of 24 years, Christine, is a physical therapist for Olathe Medical Center.  They are the parents of 21-year-old Taylor and 17-year-old Brock. Stewart is a sports fan, with emphasis on baseball, and in his free time enjoys fishing, hiking, biking, camping, , and playing in the Senior Baseball League at Mid-America Sports Complex.

Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners Announce Geller's Departure

Jill Geller.jpg

Jill Geller, executive director of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District, has announced plans to leave the agency in late September.

Geller’s resignation was accepted by the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners during its regular monthly meeting held on July 24. The executive director will leave the agency on September 20.  In October, she will assume the position of Parks, Recreation, and Libraries Director for the city of Roseville, Calif.

“I thank you for your support and confidence in me to lead this incredible agency for the past 5½ years, and I am deeply appreciative for the many opportunities that have been afforded me during my 36-year tenure. I will be forever grateful to this organization, and especially to you, for making every single day a ‘great day at work’ for me,” Geller wrote in a letter to JCPRD staff last week.

Geller has been with JCPRD for 36 years, and has served as the agency’s executive director since 2013. After coming to JCPRD in 1980 as a recreation coordinator whose duties included teaching aerobics, gymnastics, and officiating volleyball, Geller went on to serve for more than a decade as the agency’s first-ever Kansas City Corporate Challenge executive director, and ten years as superintendent of recreation.

“Jill Geller has expertly guided JCPRD toward its mission of enhancing the quality of life in Johnson County by providing excellent parks and high quality recreation programs,” said Board Chair Steve Baru. “She has achieved this by listening to our patrons, and responding in a professional, timely, and knowledgeable manner. She has also molded the organization into an employer of choice, allowing us to present professional and effective services to the community by employing highly qualified and talented staff.”  

Among her major accomplishments with JCPRD, Geller developed and oversaw the implementation of a healthy concessions initiative, known as SCORE! introducing healthy menu items at the district’s major sports venues. She played a lead role in the acquisition, renovation, and opening of JCPRD’s New Century Fieldhouse and Mill Creek Activity Center.  Most recently under her leadership, JCPRD has opened several new parks, trails, and facilities including Lexington Lake Park, Big Bull Creek Park, Meadowbrook Park, Coffee Creek Streamway Trail, Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center, and Meadowbrook Park Clubhouse.

Since Geller took the helm as executive director, JCPRD has twice been re-accredited by the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies.  In 2017, the agency received park and recreation’s highest honor, the National Gold Medal of Excellence from the National Recreation and Park Association.

Among the many awards Geller has received include: the Kansas Recreation & Park Association’s Distinguished Fellow Award in 2018, Inspirational Woman of Johnson County in 2017, Special Achievement and Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Kansas City Corporate Challenge; the KC District Heartland Leadership Award from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the Women’s Intersport Network Spirit Award from the Greater Kansas City Sports Commission; and she was named one of Kansas’s “Heartiest Five” by the Governor’s Council on Fitness.

“The board will very soon decide on a preferred strategy to fill the executive director position,” Chair Baru said. “We are fortunate to have a very talented internal pool of highly-qualified candidates but we have also had inquiries from some outstanding individuals around the country. Obviously our executive director position is a prestigious position that is highly sought after. The Board will soon decide which direction to proceed and what steps to take.”

Note: All inquiries should be addressed to Steve Baru at, phone (913) 269-0768.

Wallerstein Presented National Award

Nancy Wallerstein Cutting Ribbon For New Park

In February 2019, Nancy Wallerstein completed her tenure as the longest serving Board Member in Johnson County Park & Recreation District’s (JCPRD’s) history.  Nancy served for more than 20 years representing the citizens of Johnson County. During that time, she served in every board officer position multiple times, including four terms as chair.

The National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO) awarded Nancy the Outstanding Public Official award presented to an elected or appointed federal, state, or local official who has contributed significantly to the benefit of NACPRO member parks, recreation, leisure services and open space programs at the annual meeting in Castle Rock Colorado June 9.

During Nancy’s tenure, JCPRD acquired more than $40 million in park land; opened four new parks, providing access to more than 3,000 additional acres of greenspace to the public; constructed New Century Fieldhouse; acquired and renovated the Mill Creek Activity Center and Mid-America West Sports Complex; expanded Ernie Miller Nature Center; and constructed new dressing room and restroom buildings at The Theatre it the Park. Additionally, under Nancy’s leadership, development of Meadowbrook Park was initiated via a partnership with City of Prairie Village, the developer of the site, and Johnson County Government, providing 80 acres of park land in an area of the county underserved by open space.

Nancy Wallerstein at Ribbon Cutting

Nancy’s passion for the arts led to the acquisition and development of the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center. Nancy advocated tirelessly for an architecturally significant building to be converted to the County’s first indoor arts facility and new home for the Johnson County Museum. The success of this building will be felt for generations in this region.

Under Nancy’s leadership, JCPRD was a national Gold Medal finalist twice, culminated by a win in 2017 in New Orleans where Nancy proudly joined staff to accept this prestigious award. In addition, JCPRD has successfully remained CAPRA accredited during Nancy’s tenure meeting 100 percent of the standards in 2009 and 2014.

Nancy, now serving as a member of the Board of Directors for The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County, has indeed created a lasting legacy in Johnson County through her leadership and dedication to preserve green space, the arts and development of parks and recreation facilities.

Nancy at NRPA

Get a "Cents" About JoCo

(L to R)Foundation Secretary and JCPRD Executive Director Jill Geller, Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson, JCPRD Superintendent of Recreation Rhonda Pollard and Foundation Treasurer and JCPRD Deputy Director Jeff Stewart

(L to R)Foundation Secretary and JCPRD Executive Director Jill Geller, Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson, JCPRD Superintendent of Recreation Rhonda Pollard and Foundation Treasurer and JCPRD Deputy Director Jeff Stewart

On Friday March 8, Johnson County Manager Penny Postoak Ferguson held the final session of six Get a "Cents" About JoCo presentation at Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s New Century Fieldhouse in Gardner. The Get a “Cents” About JoCo provides county associates a connecting point with the County Manager as Penny presents general Johnson County Government updates, celebrate employee accomplishments and share some good news with the attendees.

JCPRD working on a variety of capital projects in 2019


With $10.5 million in new construction and development projects and $28 million in carryover projects, 2019 looks to be another busy year for JCPRD.

As part of the 2016 budget process, the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners approved a 0.75 mill increase in JCPRD’s funding, to be used towards implementation of the agency’s Legacy Plan. This was reduced to a 0.72 mill increase for 2019. The Legacy Plan provides a strategic framework for the agency through 2030.

Here’s a brief synopsis of major projects for 2019. Keep in mind that all tentative completion projections are dependent upon favorable weather and are subject to change.

Probably the most anticipated project of the coming year is Meadowbrook Park, for which a second quarter opening is anticipated. This 80-acre park will feature a destination playground, nature play area, trails, pickleball courts, picnic shelters, large pavilion, outdoor fitness equipment, and the 10,000 square-foot Meadowbrook Park Clubhouse.

“Getting this beautiful park open is going to be a big deal and we are getting closer to that,” said Planning and Development Manager Cliff Middleton.

As of late January, officials anticipated the clubhouse building would receive a temporary occupancy permit shortly so interior setup could begin. Major tasks yet to be completed include installation of a parking lot, additional sidewalks, and the destination playground.

Construction of an observation tower in Kill Creek Park got under way in November, and a late 2019 completion is expected. The 45-foot tower will have an elevator and stairs, and will afford 360-degree views of the surrounding lake and prairie areas.

JCPRD officials are still exploring options to determine whether the marina operations at Shawnee Mission Park will be able to operate from its regular location or if a temporary nearby location will be needed this year. Late in the 2018 marina season, rotten roof beams were discovered within the marina building’s roof and the structure was closed. The marina typically operated on weekends during May and September, and daily from Memorial Day weekend to early August.

The inclusive playground being constructed in the north Walnut Grove area of Shawnee Mission Park is progressing, with the largest remaining items being some final grading and a pour-in-place safety surface which requires five days over 50 degrees. Inclusive playgrounds are meant to enable all children to play together without physical or social barriers. JCPRD opened its first inclusive playground in Stilwell Community Park in late September.

Development for construction of Verhaeghe Park is under contract, and work is expected to commence during 2019’s first quarter with an opening in the fall. Located near the intersection of 167th and Flint Street, this 11-acre property is located about halfway through the 3.4 miles of the Coffee Creek Streamway Park, which opened in October 2017, and will serve as a trailhead and access point for that trail. Planned amenities will include a picnic shelter, playground, community garden, drinking fountain, and parking lot.

A May bid award is anticipated for development of the first phase of the future Cedar Niles Park, which will encompass about 1,000 acres and stretch nearly two miles between 119th and 135th streets in Olathe. Plans for the first phase of development will focus primarily on roughly four miles of trails, mostly along Cedar and Little Cedar creeks. Three vehicular access points, and one bike/pedestrian access point are also planned. Officials anticipate development will take approximately 16 months with a late 2020 opening expected.

The master plan for the future Camp Branch Park is nearing completion is expected to be presented to the Johnson County Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners within the next two months. This 236-acre property is located between 175th and 183rd and Mission Road. Development of the first phase is anticipated to start in 2021.

About $2 million has been earmarked for sports field improvements during 2019. The money will be used to begin addressing issues being identified in an outdoor athletic field study, which began in June 2018. A final report is anticipated later this year for this study which encompasses all of JCPRD’s outdoor sports complexes, including: Mid-America and Mid-America West; Heritage Park football, soccer, and softball; and sports fields at Thomas S. Stoll Memorial Park.

Dr. William Hoffman receives a service award from Foundation President Doug Allen


The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County has announced that longtime Board of Director Dr. William (Bill) Hoffman retired from the Foundation Board on Wednesday October 24 after nearly 30 years of volunteer service to the Foundation.

Dr. Hoffman joined the Foundation Board in August of 1990 and was honored at the quarterly Board of Directors meeting for his strong and thoughtful leadership and dedicated service. As a Board member Bill help lead The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County into the next century and saw JCPRD win two Gold Medals for Excellence in Parks and Recreation Management while guiding the Foundation through some good and not so good economic conditions.

“Bill has served the Foundation Board with great distinction” said Board President Doug Allen. “He has made an exceptional contribution over his 30 years on our Board, providing vision, leadership, insight and philanthropic acumen.”

“On behalf of Johnson County Park & Recreation District, I want to convey our most sincere appreciation to Dr. Hoffman”, said Jill Geller, JCPRD Executive Director. “He has provided great leadership throughout his many years of service on the Foundation Board”.

“It has been a great privilege to serve this great organization for so many years” Hoffman said. “I deeply appreciate having had the opportunity to work alongside so many talented volunteers and professionals.”

In a related matter, The Foundation welcomed two new Board members in Ms. Laura McConwell and Mr. Chris Carroll to The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County Board of Directors at the October quarterly meeting.

Lisa Scharnak receives a Certificate of Appreciation from Foundation Board President Doug Allen


Lisa Scharnak, 50 Plus Coordinator for Johnson County Park & Recreation District attended a recent Board of Directors meeting of The Parks and Recreation Foundation of Johnson County sharing information about a New Horizon’s Band concert and fundraising effort.

The concert was held in May 2018 where $515 was raised for the Band. This achievement was celebrated and recognized by the Board of Directors. Lisa Scharnak and New Horizons Band director Dr. Joe Parisi Professor of Instrumental Music Education at UMKC were presented a Certificate of Appreciation by President Allen.

Johnson County Park & Recreation District Wins National Award


On July 15, the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials (NACPRO) (NACPRO) awarded the Johnson County Park and Recreation District (JCPRD) its Historical/Cultural Facility Award for the Johnson County Arts & Heritage Center (JCAHC) during its annual conference. The award is presented to a member agency that "provided a unique or exceptional... historical facility; to focus national attention on the very best of facility design; to encourage outstanding efforts in planning, design, construction, and benefits to the community" based on the NACPRO website.

The Arts & Heritage Center, located at 8788 Metcalf Ave. in Overland Park, is a unique partnership among JCPRD, county government and other community partners with a shared vision to provide historical, fine arts, dance and performing arts programming. JCPRD operates and manages the center per a 10-year agreement with Johnson County Government, the facility owner.

Johnson County Park & Recreation District announces Academy Sports + Outdoors as the Production Sponsor of The Theatre in the Park’s production of Disney’s© “High School Musical 1 & 2”


Johnson County Park & Recreation District is proud to announce Academy Sports + Outdoors as the Production Sponsor for The Theatre in the Park’s production of Disney’s© “High School Musical 1 & 2.”  The one act versions are both rated G, and will be on the outdoor stage in Shawnee Mission Park on Aug. 3 through 5, and Aug. 8 through 11. 

“Academy is truly happy to be involved in the production of Disney’s© ‘High School Musical 1 & 2,’” said Regional Marketing Manager Amy Acock.  “We are excited to see all of the young talent and look forward to a great show.” 

The cast of Disney’s© “High School Musical 1 & 2” spent the afternoon of July 17 on a shopping spree to complete the list of props needed for the production with a donated gift card of $1,500 from Academy Sports + Outdoors.  The store also presented the cast with two new basketball goals for the show.

Disney’s© “High School Musical 1 & 2” will mark the end of the 49th outdoor season for The Theatre in the Park.  “We’re so happy for the terrific friendship we’ve developed with Academy,” said Producing Artistic Director Tim Bair. “Their help with our production of Disney’s© “High School Musical”  has really allowed us to take the production value to the next level!” 



The Theatre in the Park is the largest outdoor community theater in the country. The outdoor amphitheater is tucked into 10 beautiful acres in Shawnee Mission Park with a separate entrance at 7710 Renner Road. Located just north of I-435 Highway and 87th Street, the facility is easily accessible from anywhere in the Kansas City metropolitan area.

The theater’s box office opens at 6:30 pm, the gates open at 7 p.m., and shows begin at 8:30 p.m.  General admission is $8 plus tax, $6 plus tax for youth ages four to ten, and free for children three and under, but tickets are still required. Tickets can be purchased at the box office or online. “Anytime tickets” available via either ticket-buying method, are not specific to a certain night or performance, and can be printed out at home and scanned at the gate. To purchase tickets or for more information, please visit

For more information on sponsorship opportunities, contact Kate Buenger at (913) 826-3016 or

Shawnee Mission Park Named #1 Park in Kansas by


With the help of Yelp, has identified the best park in each of the 50 states (and District of Columbia).  We are pleased and proud to share with you that Shawnee Mission Park was chosen as the best in Kansas!  Feel free to click on the link below and then scroll down to Kansas to read all about it.  We appreciate your financial support which helps us achieve honors like this and the National Gold Medal Award for Park and Recreation Excellence.