For the past six years, the Valpo Parks Foundation has been honoring Valparaiso “Friends & Legends” that have changed the landscape of the town for the better. This year kept on that same path for 2016’s celebration and awards reception. The foundation handed out the honors at downtown’s gorgeous Urschel E. Pavilion amongst some of Valpo’s greatest cheerleaders and the families and friends of the guests of honor.
“Tonight is really about thanking the people who make everything we do happen. So much of what we do as a foundation is in part due to people contributing both their volunteerism and private dollars, so we want to celebrate their generosity that has helped us move up to a different level,” Valpo Parks Foundation Executive Director John Seibert explained. “This isn’t just about the honorees, it’s about getting together everyone who has helped the Foundation to say thanks and help us express our gratitude on a gorgeous evening - we can’t expect anything much greater than that.”
At the heart of the night, there were the award recipients. With every reception, two individuals or families are awarded the Art & Irene Malasto Legends Award and Legendary Friend Award as voted by the Valpo Parks Foundation Board.
This year Bruce and Judy Leetz were chosen for the Art & Irene Malasto Legends Award and former Valparaiso Mayor David A. Butterfield was given the Legendary Friend Award. Both Leetz and Butterfield are familiar and distinguished names in the community, and both have seen Valparaiso progress and flourish for the past few decades. Butterfield was a huge proponent of the Valpo Parks Foundation back during it’s conception in 1988, and has been a supporter since. The title of “Legendary Friend” truly fits the bill, but Butterfield states that the award is a reminder of how far the Foundation has come.
“It’s a very humbling experience because the things I accomplished with the Foundation as Mayor I never did to receive an award. I was born and raised in this community and always loved it, and the parks system most of all,” Butterfield stated. “All of the things that I did with the parks were a labor of love, and to get a plaque for that so many years later is outstanding. I’ve had the honor of watching the Foundation do so many wonderful things in this community, and I’m glad to be in the presence of what has been accomplished.”
The Art & Irene Malasto Legends Award, on the other hand, means more to the Leetzs than the title and plaque. Art and Irene Malasto, two people who also had a deep love for Valpo Parks, were Judy Leetz’s parents and receiving the award has a huge sentimental value to the both of them.
“When I think of everything that this community and the parks meant to my Father-in-Law it brings up some great memories. We were at a dinner and reception once, and after convincing us to get there a half-an-hour early he left us. I asked where he was going and said, “I’ll be right back - I have to get to a parks foundation meeting.” That was his commitment to the parks,” Leetz explained. “I’ve lived in Valpo all of my life, as has Mayor Butterfield, and we’ve just seen this community and culture thrive. There’s just nowhere else like this, and we’re glad to have been a part of it for so long.”
Even as the event honored past and legendary dignitaries in the Valparaiso community, the Foundation wants the reception to bring inspiration to the next wave of leaders that will bring Valpo further than it has been before. Jeff Lewis, Valpo Parks Foundation Board Member, noted that other than honoring the ones that came before, the night’s true meaning is to show that the community has something that they can look forward to with future “Legends” still to come.
“With the Foundation being around for so many years there are so many people you have to thank that lead the way before you, and we have to encourage younger leadership to stand up and encourage others just has the older generation has,” Lewis stated. “You have to look at the past to see that so much has been accomplished and look at what these honorees have given us under their care for the community. It’s truly a night to celebrate the ‘Legends’ while seeing that we have such a bright future ahead of us.”