Ralph S. Cryder is a native of Pennsylvania graduating from Penn State University with a Bachelors Degree in Recreation Education. Subsequently, he received his Masters Degree in Parks and Recreation Administration from Temple University. He started his professional career as Director of Recreation for Valeria in Westchester County, New York, in 1957. Forty-one years later when he retired from the City of Long Beach, California, in 1998, Ralph Cryder was recognized throughout the field for his innovation and the leadership he provided to the agencies for which he had worked; his commitment to an array of professional organizations; his influence as a leader and instructor of professional training programs; and as a role model for young people in the field.
After Valeria, his professional career involved stops as Assistant Superintendent of Recreation in Caldwell-West Caldwell, New Jersey; and as Director of Parks and Recreation at Reel Bank, New Jersey; New Castle County, Delaware; Los Angeles County, California; and Long Beach.
Cryder's greatest challenge arose when he became Director of Los Angeles County. The county parks and recreation system served 8 million people, was the largest county system in the world, and the third largest local system in the US after New York City and Chicago. He became director in 1978, which was the same year that Proposition 13 was passed in California. His challenge was "how to do more with less", which meant how to maintain or expand the department's services with reduced resources after the Proposition cut tax support by two-thirds. These cuts were widely perceived to have created a crisis for park and recreation agencies in California which was unprecedented in the field’s history. Ralph Cryder viewed it differently. He saw the crisis as an opportunity to create a series of innovations designed to make the field more business-like.
The major innovations that Ralph Cryder introduced in Los Angeles included: reorganizing the department by delegating authority to three geographical regions away from the central office, so services were more responsive to local needs; (ii) implementing the first extensive plan for contracting-out services for these functions where comparable services could be offered at a lower cost - a plan which became a model both for the entire county and for many park and recreation agencies across the country, and led to Cryder's reputation as the "father" of contracting-out; (iii) substantial leveraging of a relatively small county capital projects fund by creative use of an array of matching grant programs and through partnership agreements both with other government agencies and the private sector - for example, in successive years in the early 1980s the county leveraged a $500,000 - $700,000 capital budget into $30 million worth of capital investment; (iv) an extensive and determined thrust toward computer automation so Los Angeles County became one of the first park and recreation departments where it was pervasive across the agency; (v) launching an extensive volunteer program to replace departmental resources caused by funding cuts in recreational services; (vi) establishment of a foundation led by leading business figures in the county to support the department with additional resources; and (vii) the implementation of a revenue generation plan that increased the agency's revenues from $11 million in 1977-78 to $16.7 million in 1981-82.
After 10 years at Los Angeles County, Cryder accepted the position as Director of Parks -Recreation Marine in Long Beach, California. When he arrived in Long Beach the three units were independent consisting of the recreation bureau, the marine bureau, and the parks department which was part of public works. They were brought together under his leadership and he united them into a cohesive unit. During his 10 year tenure at Long Beach, the Department twice won the NRPA Gold Medal for Excellence as the top department in the country serving 250,000 or more residents.
When he retired from full-time employment at Long Beach, his considerable expertise and national reputation resulted in commissions for consulting assignments from a host of park and recreation agencies. During this period, he also volunteered his expertise to organizations such as California State University Long Beach, and the Southern California Special Olympics.
It took vision, political skill, personal resilience and an unwavering commitment to achieve the magnitude of change which Ralph Cryder enacted. The personal effort required to accomplish the extraordinary levels of innovation and excellence that Cryder inspired was substantial. In a press interview he commented, "You can figure out the financial constraints - what it is you want to do - but the headache is trying to find innovative ways to do it. It can really wear you out. It's challenging and exciting, but it does take a lot out of you."
Ralph Cryder was never concerned with the impact of a decision on his personal popularity; only with whether it was right. He was widely respected as a professional who solved problems and got things done. He never flinched from making tough decisions when the outcome was in the public's best interests. He earned the admiration and respect of elected officials as he lived by his personal credo which was, "I work hard, play hard and I keep my promises." He described his management style in the following terms:
I'm an autocratic manager in a democratic sort of way. I am no-nonsense. I want to get it done. I'm highly organized and I track everything. You have to. There are so many loose ends in a large department. Everything from a broken sewer line to a wounded animal to some guy who got hurt on a ball field. But you rely on your managers to do that kind of work. You don't get in their way, micro-manage, order them around. You're there to give them help if they need it. But, I am I think, demanding.
Ralph Cryder's leadership in the field extended beyond the agencies for which he worked to embrace a large number of professional associations. A member of the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA) and its predecessor organizations since 1956, he also served as a member of the National Association of County Parks and Recreation Officials, was President of that Organization and was elected a lifetime member. He served as President of both the New Jersey and Delaware State Professional Societies and assisted in the organization of the Delaware Parks and Recreation Association; and was President of the Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.
Throughout his career, Ralph Cryder's innovations and expertise were watched and admired by his peers across the country. Despite the extraordinary pressures and demands on his time, he never hesitated to accept invitations to speak at professional gatherings to share his knowledge in such areas as revenue producing facilities, contracting-out, financial management, collective bargaining, volunteerism and private sector partnerships. He did this not only in presentations, but also by authoring over 100 white papers, monographs and articles. He was an instructor at the Revenue Sources Management School at Oglebay Park for over 30 years and was a major force behind the launching of a similar school in California; and he was a long-time instructor at the National Institute for Golf Management. He served for long periods on the boards of all three schools.
Ralph Cryder was a strong advocate of continuing education for professionals, perhaps because education was prominent in his heritage. Both his parents were academics at Penn State. His mother taught Latin, while his father was Head of the Chemical Engineering Department. He demonstrated the depth of his commitment by joining with his brother to endow a $100,000 scholarship in the College of Engineering in memory of his father; and making another $100,000 commitment to establish the Cryder Endowment in Recreation and Park Management at Penn State.