KANKAKEE — Surrounded by family members, J.J. Hollis left the Bird Park administration building on Monday for the last time as a parks commissioner with his hands full of parting gifts. His heart was full, too, after 14 years as a member of the Kankakee Valley Park Department Board of Commissioners.
“I enjoyed my 14 years, but it’s time for me to move on to other things,” said Hollis after thanking fellow board members and staff. “I have other political aspirations I’m pursuing. Right now, my family and everyone felt like this was time. And I felt like it was time. Fourteen years is a long time.”
Hollis was presented a plaque from the KVPD, thanking him for his service, and a small gift from the state association that executive director Dayna Heitz gave to him.
“This is on behalf of the board of commissioners for 2007 to 2021 your service,” she said. “Thank you for your commitment, leadership and selfless dedication in serving the KVPD and our community.”
Then, Hollis pointed to the back of the room at his son, Tywan.
“I look at that young man in the back with dreadlocks — that’s my youngest son,” Hollis said. “When he walked me into my first meeting and 6 years old, and he was about this tall. As you can see he’s not that tall anymore, and he’s a junior in college.
“So, understand, he grew up here sitting in front row every meeting, and he understands the political process because you guys, you’re in good hands. Dayna has done a wonderful job. Keep doing what you’re doing. I believe in the positive direction the park district is going in.”
“You were instrumental,” Heitz responded.
Hollis lost a Republican primary bid for Kankakee mayor against Chris Curtis in February and did not run for his park board seat.
Hollis said he would like to be on the resident advisory committee that the district is in the process of forming.
“I want to see the partnership continue to grow and continue to get better,” he said. “We have a great staff here, and we have great people here. And that’s what I’d like to see so thank you all for putting up with me. We haven’t always got along, but guess what, we got the business of the district done, and that’s the most important thing.”
During Hollis’ tenure, he saw some good times, and he saw the bad under then executive director Roy Collins.
In 2018, Collins pleaded guilty to federal mail and wire fraud charges for using district funds while he was director. He was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison in January 2019. Collins left the KVPD in financial disarray when he agreed to a separation agreement with the district in April 2016.
Hollis said Collins let down a lot of people who trusted him.
“When we hire people, we expect them to do their jobs,” he said. “We didn’t hire anybody to do anything illegal. We moved on from that and got Dayna Heitz, and she’s done a wonderful job and getting things back to solvency in the community.”
There was some regret for having hired Collins, he said.
“Here’s the thing, [Collins] did some great things, but as a board, he put us through some turbulent times,” Hollis said. “But like I just told the [new commissioners], if it was easy, everybody would be there. And my thing is that nobody turned their tail and ran. We all stayed here, we stayed the course, and we saw it through. And that’s why I respect those commissioners.”
Hollis said in the future he might run for state representative or for Kankakee alderman. He said he initially ran for a board seat to advocate for children and providing them with activities in the community. He was proud of getting Splash Valley back open and other accomplishments.
“We did a lot,” he said. “We got the Rec Center. We did a lot out at River Road Park, got the dog park and we got the campgrounds back out there. And had three parks named for African Americans, which was big time in 100-year history.
“We had three parks named after African Americans — the Steve Hunter Park, the Bert Dear Sr. Park and the Mayor Ralph [RJ] Bailey Park in Sun River Terrace, along with the Ed Mullady Boat Ramp that will be dedicated here [in June]. I was very instrumental in getting those things done. That was that was the biggest thing for me was recognizing those people who’ve done a lot in our community.”