April 04, 2018

Special Olympics founder, Normal Parks and Recreation director among speakers at SIU’s Allen Symposium

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — The John Allen Symposium, taking place on April 5, brings together students, alumni and honored guests of Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Department of Public Health and Recreation Professions for a day of educational sessions, networking and exploration.

A variety of awards will be presented as well.

Special Olympics founder will speak

In addition, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Anne Burke, one of the founders of Special Olympics, will speak at the symposium. The Special Olympics 50th Anniversary celebration kicks off on April 6 at Touch of Nature, where it all began.

Matthew Keefer, dean of the College of Education and Human Services and others will present remarks as well at the symposium.

2017 Alumnus of the Year to keynote

The keynote speaker is Doug Damery, director of Parks and Recreation for the city of Normal and the 2017 SIU Rec Professions Alumnus of the Year. He will also present the 2018 Alumnus of the Year award.

Disney Parks and Resorts director in Asia to be honored

William “Bill” Ernest, president and managing director in Asia for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, is the 2018 award winner. Ernest has had a long career with Disney, beginning as general manager of Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort in 1994.

He’s held a number of positions with the company, including general manager of field businesses, general manager of numerous resorts, vice president of operations and support for Disney Cruise Line and executive vice president and managing director of Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. His previous experience includes opening more than 40 hotels for Marriott Corporation.

Ernest is a double alumnus of SIU, completing his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in hospitality management and recreational management at the university.

He turned down a football scholarship to attend the Phillips Exeter Academy and recently announced his retirement after 24 years with Disney.

Company officials praise Ernest’s character and passion and say he’s been a tremendous asset to Disney. As he’s currently transitioning from his work in Shangai to retirement, he isn’t able to attend the awards presentation but will be invited to attend a future event.

Topics include finding a job in the field, developing recreation programs and more

Panel discussions and presentations throughout the morning will highlight the various recreation areas: outdoor leadership, therapeutic recreation, community/commercial recreation, and management/campus recreation.

Students will learn more about everything from graduate school to job hunting, from adapting recreational therapy programs to sensory integration in therapeutic recreation and much more through a series of special presentations.

Several student achievement awards will be presented. The symposium also represents a great opportunity for current students in the program to connect with alumni. The event concludes with a dinner and music.

Students and faculty coordinate the event

Recreation Professions faculty and graduate assistants organize the symposium, named for the late John R. Allen, who chaired the department from 1983 until his death from cancer in 1993.

The Student Recreation Society assists. They received grant funding from the USG to provide lunch a continental breakfast for the event, held at SIU’s Touch of Nature Environmental Center, which is located about eight miles south of Carbondale on Giant City Road. The symposium begins at 8 a.m.