A new teaching area at Peck Farm Park now officially bears the name of Ralph Dantino, a Geneva alderman and park district supporter who helped create the expansive park around the new dock.
A crowd of family and friends gathered at Peck Farm on a blustery Saturday morning to remember Dantino, who died in 2013 of cancer. In addition to his council seat, Dantino was a founding member of the Geneva Park District Foundation and was instrumental in helping pass two park district referenda that ensured Peck Farm stayed open space, instead of becoming a sea of new homes.
"Nothing like this happens unless there are people who desparately want this to happen," said Dean Kilburg, a Geneva alderman and longtime friend of Dantino's.
He and retired director Stephen Persinger said it was people like Dantino that made Peck Farm the bustling place it was that Saturday, with an Earth Day celebration, the new Hawks Hollow playground and an Easter egg hunt across the street. Dantino served on the foundation that helped fund many Peck Farm projects, including the stairs in the farm's silo, the renovated shutters on the house, and the Butterfly House, which now receives 16,000 visitors a year.
The new teaching dock extends from the shoreline of Peck Lake, and a cluster of eight benches hewn from trees felled by the emerald ash borer will provide an outdoor classroom, said park district officials. Students on field trips, Boy Scout troops, and other children will able to access the lake to test water samples and view the wildlife, said Traci Wicks, the park district's marketing and public relations director.
"Instead of just the prairie, this will allow for a different element for teaching," she said.
Nancy Dantino was moved to tears when she addressed the crowd, saying that her husband would have loved the honor.
"Thank you for keeping his memory alive," she said. "I'll be out here a lot."
Officials also used the occasion to make an official donation to the Hawks Hollow playground. The foundation presented a gift of $80,000 for the project and the president pledged another $20,000 after this fall's Autumn Fair.