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Sir Locksley Brings Magic, Opportunities to Macomb

October 13, 2022

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MACOMB, IL – Like Robin of Locksley (aka Robin Hood) who gave back to his community (albeit what some might consider in slightly unscrupulous ways), Western Illinois University Peace Corps Fellow and Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration Graduate Student Sir Jason "Rok" Locksley (he has been knighted by the Order of Brașov) has made it his mission to give back to his "adopted" home community of Macomb during his time at WIU, but in a far more lawful manner than Sir Robin of Locksley.

It all started with a career fair. After completing his first service as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Moldova, Locksley, who hails from a small community in the Appalachians highlands, became a recruiter for the Peace Corps in Chicago, and his territory for recruiting the next generation of Peace Corps volunteers included WIU. The fall career fair brought him to Macomb in 2008.

"My first time through Macomb, I felt a strong kinship with the city. I grew up in a city very similar on the East coast and visiting to Macomb felt like a homecoming of sorts to me," he recalled. "I drove through Glenwood Park, had lunch at Everly Pond, walked through Garwood and Annex art galleries, took in the history of the Geology Museum in Tillman, saw the amazing stained glass in the Multicultural Center and even visited the Dwarf Planet Eris in Knoblauch Hall.

"I always looked forward to my visits at WIU. Professors were always generous and kind during class talks, students were professional and curious, the general feeling of campus was always pleasant and relaxed academia," Locksley added.

During his visits to campus, he stopped by the Peace Corps Fellows office in Currens Hall to visit with Director Karen Mauldin-Curtis and the fellows. It was during a stop in Currens that he passed through the fourth floor, home of the RPTA department, which made him think he might just join WIU as a graduate student, ideally in the Fellows program.

Flash forward eight years, and his career path once again led him back to the Peace Corps, where he served with his partner, Genevieve Locksley in the Philippines. Due to the pandemic, the pair were evacuated and they were returning to the U.S. with no health care, housing or jobs. He completed his WIU RPTA graduate school application on the flight back to the states, and two weeks later, he learned he would be starting in the program in Fall 2020.

"As a fellow in Community Development, part of our program is gaining real-world experience by serving as a graduate assistant for our first year. In a stroke of grand luck, I was matched with the Macomb Park District. I interviewed with Executive Director (and WIU RPTA Alumna) Rachel Lenz, and we quickly established a strong rapport that would serve as the foundation of my master's degree," Locksley explained.

Locksley took the theory-to-practice method into an internship, which transformed into an AmeriCorps volunteer stint later, at the Macomb Park District that he made into his own. He was given the latitude by Lenz and park district staff to go forth and create, and create he did.

Using the rich history of McDonough County and Macomb, which was established in 1830, Locksley created a scavenger hunt, complete with a board game, which is sold at Battlegrounds, based on Macomb's history, and inspired by folklore, with nods to another magical wizarding world, the Park District's "Director of Discovery and Wonder" (aka Locksley), created interactive activities for people of all ages to complete at Macomb's parks to have fun, learn more about Macomb and do something good for the parks (e.g. clean up litter). He is currently drawing a Macomb Park District-based comic book to go along with everything.

"His creativity and commitment are beyond outstanding. We (the park district) wouldn't have half the things we have if not for Rok's creations. When he presented his dissertation for his master's thesis, which was based on what he did for the park district, watching the professors' faces transform was amazing. I cannot say enough good things about Rok," Lenz said.

The Macomb School of Magic, which includes various "houses" at the parks; the forthcoming Patton Park Meditative Garden, which was created through a grant in partnership with Boehms Nursery in Rushville, and the Citizens Plaza interactive sculptures, which Locksley created following a tutorial by WIU Art Department Professor and Sculptor Duke Oursler, are just a few of Locksley's creative creations. Maps and more can be found at the Park District Office, 1406 N. Randolph St.

Lockley's creative endeavors spans a few decades, beginning in the late 1990's, when he left his hometown to earn his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing from James Madison University. After graduating in 2002, he became a professional artist for a few years, developing his own company, "Art Roks!," where he built stained glass, designed and painted community murals and did other commissioned designs. As much as he was enjoying the work, he decided he need his artwork to be "better informed."

"I set myself on a journey for the next decade with two rules: choose something uncomfortable, and when I became comfortable with that, make a big change," Locksley said. "The first thing I did was move into the woods and try to live year-round in a tent. I was working as an outdoor guide for larger organizations, but I became comfortable surrounded by nature, sleeping under the stars and carrying all of my belongings in a pack. Once that became comfortable, I knew I needed to change, so I bought a ticket to Costa Rica and spent a few months wandering around in Central America."

Once the backpacking life became a comfortable rhythm, Locksley said he joined AmeriCorps*NCCC for 10 years. At the end of the decade, he worked a series of difficult jobs, spoke four languages, visited 30+ countries, and in that time, he had dined with kings, debriefed ambassadors and held court with queens. He watched countries fall, celebrated dawning democracies, hiked basecamp Everest, rode horses on Cassidy and Sundance's trail in Bolivia, climbed a pyramid and earned a long list of certificates, honorifics, and alphabets, including being knighted in the city of Brasov, Romania for community development and tourism initiatives.

"And in all this decade, I had never broken poverty level on my tax returns," Locksley said. "At the end of the decade upon my return from Moldova, I reunited with an old friend I had met on my first visit to Costa Rica. She was from Michigan and in the course of a single visit, our friendship blossomed into a relationship and I came to Chicago to challenge myself to live in 'the big city."

In 2016, the pair were married on the Appalachian Trail, and a year later, they started on their "year around the world tour," which the pandemic later brought to a halt (their tour had extended beyond 2018 until the pandemic struck). In early 2022, the Locksley's welcomed their daughter, Luna, into their world. While Locksley graduated with his master's in RPTA in May 2022, the trio remains in Macomb, where he is currently working as the Superintendent of Support Services.

"Where others may see obstacles, I see opportunities and I'm always seeking ways to improve myself and my community. One of the reasons I never returned to being a full time artist is because I could never really understood privatized art collections. I believe that the public should have free access to good art, in all its forms. Perhaps that is the main driving force behind the sculptures in Citizens Plaza," Locksley said.

His work at the Citizens Plaza was built from resources he scavenged from the park district's maintenance crew, scraps – such as old hammers – that he repurposed. Thanks to the connection of Macomb to board games, the inspiration for his Macomb School of Magic board game came directly from Macomb's very own Lizzy Maggie's "The Landlord Game."

"I loved the idea of learning a lesson through playing a game and I decided I wanted to build an inverted Monopoly game, which is competitive with one winner. I created my game to be cooperative, where everyone either wins or loses by working together," he explained. "My game is about visiting our parks and caretaking them. In Monopoly, someone becomes the enemy, but in in my game the enemies are communal enemies like apathy and litter. In the Macomb School of Magic game, everyone talks, plans and works together."

The Macomb School of Magic game is not Locksley's first foray into the world of games, having built a few for the Peace Corps, some for private commissions and some just for himself.

"When I play an existing game (like Magic the Gathering, D&D or even Connect Four), I think, 'That was fun…. but what would make it better?' and it continues to evolve until I find something that is balanced, challenging and fun," Locksley shared.

The scavenger hunt through Macomb parks, which is echoed in the Macomb School of Magic board game, was borne out of the idea of creating something that would give people a reason to come and visit the parks, but with pandemic regulations, there couldn't be large numbers of people at any given time. From that the scavenger hunt was created, with the help of the Western Illinois Museum and its director, Sue Scott.

"Rok has done a phenomenal job creating experiences that get people to visit our parks, get engaged with one another and Macomb's history and connect the park district with organizations we've never worked with," Lenz added. "He has built solid relationships with others that will carry on."

His RPTA studies also led him to research more about how parks were formed, and he realized that many stories featured parks, such as Alice in Wonderland, Robin Hood, The Chronicles of Narnia and others.

"Almost every fairy tale has a magical natural forest or park where anything can happen. Inspired by these ideas, I wanted something to exist in the community that hinted at magic and allowed the ability for someone to discover a wealth of lore, links and literature at their own pace," Locksley pointed out.

This lead into the creation of a now-annual event, Wizard Quest, which takes place at the park district around Halloween. Through this event, Locksley created a wand-making station, a magical Macomb map-making section, a challenge that meanders through the park and interactives like broom races. Through an integral town-gown relationship, WIU theatre students played Macomb School of Magic (MSoM) professors to help bring kids into the world of make-believe.

The Macomb School of Magic, the board game and the interactive sculpture projects also led Locksley to create a fully digital comic book, which will debut digitally in the late fall of 2022. The story follows four children who are set on a Wizard's Quest by Headmaster Locksley in which they visit all of Macomb's main parks, discover unique places, interact with the sculptures, uncover their own magic powers and unite to defeat the dreaded affliction.

"This has truly been a wonderful place to work and I am thrilled to be a small part of its legacy here in the community," he said. "In the near future, my wife and I would like to hit the road and tour the U.S., visiting cities akin to Macomb and developing a similar tourism/community engagement project that is unique to each location's individual needs, history, and resources.

"My time in Macomb and WIU has been truly blessed," Locksley added. "I have been wonderfully fortunate to work for, and with folks, who supported my ideas, worked with me to make all of these projects successful and really created the space for me to succeed. Truly, no one can accomplish anything of note alone, and so many people at Macomb and WIU have had a direct positive impact on my life and work."

Posted By: Darcie Shinberger (
Office of University Communications & Marketing