APHS donates playground to Maple Park

By on April 18, 2013

by Cheryl Borrowdale
MAPLE PARK—For the last 14 years, Captain Nick Louis has been driving down Washington Street in Maple Park on his way to a private airstrip near DeKalb, looking at the sad state of the playground equipment at Washington Park.

This year, he decided it was time to do something about it—but when he walked into the village office in February and offered to donate a set of expensive, new playground equipment, village staff was skeptical.

They put him in contact with Village President Kathy Curtis. Louis, who is the founder of the Airline Pilot’s Historical Society (APHS) and lives in St. Charles, soon convinced her that he was serious.

“I went to Kathy, and I said, ‘First of all, you’re going to think I’m trying to get money, but here’s all the information about our foundation and about me,’” Louis said. “‘Check us out, because we’re clean, and there’s no ulterior motive and no punchline. Once you’re satisfied that I’m not scamming you, we built a playground in (the) Fox Chase (subdivison) in St. Charles. We’ve done it before, and we’ll do it again.’”

Curtis was thrilled.

“He asked us if we’d be interested. Of course we’d be interested,” Curtis said. “Park equipment is very expensive. That’s why Maple Park has never been able to invest in park equipment, because we use all our budgetary resources to serve our citizens.”

Though Louis originally had new playground equipment in mind for Washington Park, Curtis took him on a tour of the village and suggested putting the new equipment in at the Civic Center Park on Willow Street, which is in use nearly every night during the warmer months, and where she believed the equipment would get more use.

The APHS said it would pick out and purchase the equipment if Maple Park’s Public Works Department would take care of the installation. Louis said the playground is a quality piece, but he declined to say how much it would cost.

“We try not to put dollar value on it going in, because we don’t want people to feel beholden to us or to want something more,” Louis said. “We want people to say, ‘That’s nice. We don’t care what you paid for it.’ We want it to be a nice outfit that looks good.”

Curtis requested that the APHS-purchased playground equipment be designed for children ages 10 and younger, since the Civic Center Park is mainly used by young children whose older siblings are playing baseball games at the center.

Louis said the unit would have a little hut in the middle and slides off the central unit.

“Because (young children) have special needs, we tailored (the playground) a little to them so that it’s for 3- to 8-year-olds who could care less about the baseball game and want grandpa to take them over.”

The process has been moving forward quickly, and the new park equipment should be installed at the Civic Center by the end of June, Curtis said. A metal plaque will mention that the park was donated by APHS.

The APHS, a group of 10 volunteers, raised the money for this project and several others by selling off pieces of old airplanes to collectors and by offering technical consulting to Hollywood studios.

Louis founded the organization in 1997, soon after he retired from his 31-year career as a United Airlines pilot.

“I started this foundation because it was a great interest, and people like me wanted parts of old airplanes to hang on their walls, and a lot of old planes were being scrapped. And I said, ‘Gee whiz, we’ll beg, buy and sell pieces of these old airplanes, and we’ll use the money we raise to do good.’”

He’s raised hundreds of thousands of dollars selling those parts to collectors and to people building airplane simulators, as well as advising production crews for movies such as “Man of Steel,” a reboot of the Superman series, and “World War Z,” a zombie film starring Brad Pitt, both of which come out later this year.

“If it blows up on TV or catches fire and it’s in the air, we’ve had our finger in it,” Louis said. “The PanAm series, we worked on that, and the cockpit they did was beautiful. It was pretty hokey from an aviation standpoint though.”

The foundation has “a soft spot for sick kids,” Louis said, and donates $20,000 to Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago every year. It also donates to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, gives away airline parts to students in flying programs to help further their education, and does at least one other project like the park in Maple Park every year.

Although the APHS’s five-member board had to vote on this year’s project, Louis said he was confident Maple Park would be selected.

“It’s amazing how difficult it is to give something away for free,” Louis said. “We’ve approached other towns before. Some wanted to make sure that they could pick and choose and tell us what we should buy, and it made it very difficult. The mayor of another town had a rosewood desk worth more than his car, so we knew where the money would go.”

The APHS had donated new playground equipment to Fox Chase Park in St. Charles in 2005, and “it really kind of bit us in the shorts,” Louis said.

“That project in St. Charles cost us $30,000, and then they came out and built a waterpark out there for $20 million,” Louis said. “We busted our butts to raise $30,000 for them and then they built that, so we don’t need to (help them).”

Maple Park was an attractive choice, Louis said, precisely because it is small and doesn’t have many facilities for families with small children.

“Why Maple Park? The people there are humble, they aren’t self-impressed, they aren’t blowing money down a hole somewhere, and that’s where you want your money to go,” Louis said. “And they needed some help.”

Curtis said that she was grateful for the APHS’s assistance.

“It’s going to be a great benefit for our citizens, because we’ll be able to give the park a facelift at no cost to the citizens. We have a great group of people who maintain the ball fields (at the Civic Center) and run a great ball program. Families spend the evenings there, and now the little kids have something to do. I couldn’t be more thankful to Mr. Louis for what he’s done for us.”