By Pauline Tannos, former Urbana Park District Advisory Committee member
Like many, I first came to the area for school. This was back in 2007, and that year was, to be honest, miserable. I missed everything about home, and the cold certainly did not help. I didn’t think I’d fall in love with Urbana, but yes, you can probably guess: I did. I ended up living there for over 8 years. I have since moved away to New Jersey, but I can say that those 8 years were among the best of my life. My best friend is convinced that she and I will retire together in Urbana one day. She, too, came for school, and stayed for the people.
There is much to love about the city, but I have the Urbana Park District to thank for some of my favorite Urbana memories. Here are a few of them:
Swimming at the Indoor Aquatic Center
In 2012, I moved to an apartment steps away from the Indoor Aquatic Center. Swimming is one of the very few exercises that I actually enjoy, and it just became so convenient! I’d also been wanting to learn swimming freestyle, so my husband and I started going. To be honest, aside from my Urbana friends (and certain foods from certain restaurants), I probably miss the pool the most. We love our new home city, but there is no public pool nearby (yet). We didn’t know how good we had it, and would have gone more often!
Taking long walks with Keagan
I didn’t have a dog, and sadly still don’t, so I had to resort to treating Keagan, my best friend’s Bichon-Poodle mix, like he was my own furry baby. New places used to make him a little bit nervous (he was probably thinking, “Where are you taking me, lady who’s not even my mom?”) so we tried to stick with Blair Park and Carle Park, which he loved. Cute as he is, he stole many hearts on our walks, both human hearts and canine hearts. You might have seen him enjoying live music at a Neighborhood Nights or two.
Playing tennis at Blair Park
To be frank, a more accurate description would be “chasing tennis balls around.” I used to play a little bit as a child, but hadn’t for about 20 years, so some skills were definitely lost. Tennis is not like riding a bike, it turns out. Or, perhaps my memory failed me and I actually was also horrible at tennis as a child. It was nonetheless good exercise, and I very much enjoyed playing with my husband on the cooler early summer afternoons.
Exploring Meadowbrook and its arts programs
The Wandell Sculpture Garden is where I always took visiting friends and family (they are always impressed), and Jazz Walk was my favorite time of the year to walk around it. Urbana is fortunate to have so many high-caliber artists, and it looks to me that the park district takes every opportunity to support them. I remember attending Deke Weaver’s BEAR, back in 2016. At the end, as the day turned dark, everyone in the group left the performance in silence, too mesmerized still by everything about it. What a perfect setting Meadowbrook was for this project.
Lastly, serving on UPDAC, the Urbana Park District Advisory Committee
I grew up in an authoritarian, politically troubled country, and never felt safe going to public spaces, especially not on my own. I would never have imagined volunteering on a park advisory committee, I guess because I didn’t think that people would want to hear my ideas. To cut the story short, I had a lot of self-doubt and was hesitant to apply, but I am so glad I did. I sat on the committee for a couple of years. I never felt more heard. If you are looking for a way to get involved and know your community better, I’d highly recommend starting with your local park district.
Though I now live far away, I am forever grateful for the warm welcome that this community gave me. It was my first home in America, and still is the home of many people whom I call close friends. There I learned to be a part of something bigger, and to feel safe and have more confidence in myself. To any newcomers who might be reading this, and to those of you who, like me, did not grow up having park experiences: please go out there and enjoy all the things that Urbana has to offer. I sure didn’t start doing this early enough, but when I did, I ended up with new hobbies, new skills, new friends, and all the opportunities that I needed to take an active part. It became easy to feel like I belong. I was sad to leave this wonderful community, but I left with thousands of beautiful memories to always keep with me.