Charles E. Hartsoe, educator, author, and ardent advocate, is regarded as a "man for his time," significantly influencing, visioning, and shaping America's park and recreation professional movement for over five decades (1962 to current). Indeed, the 2009 publication entitled, The Noble Experiment-The National Recreation and Park Administration, is dedicated to Charles (Charlie) E. Hartsoe, for "his untiring dedication, energy, and passion for the National Recreation and Park Association."
Hartsoe is a native of Bluefield, West Virginia. He served his country in the United States Air Force from 1948 to 1952. In 1955, he completed his undergraduate education at Springfield College, Massachusetts, earning a bachelor of science degree in Recreation and Youth Leadership. He received his master's degree in Recreation and Parks in 1956 from the University of Illinois. While at Springfield, he met his wife, Joyce Wright, a recreation major, which fostered a family of three children, seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
Hartsoe embarked on his professional career as an intern with the late Robert Crawford, Commissioner of Recreation, in the City of Philadelphia. This program, sponsored by the National Recreation Association, was the first internship in what became a nationally important developmental program for young professionals. With completion of this service, Hartsoe remained with the City of Philadelphia Recreation Department as an administrative analyst.
In 1960, Hartsoe's career assumed a notable milestone as he became employed by the National Recreation Association (NRA), located in New York City, to serve as its assistant executive director. The stage was being set for great change and advances in how America viewed and provided local park and recreation services. In response to the national demand for outdoor recreation, the United States Congress authorized in 1958 the creation of the Outdoor Recreation Resources Review Commission (ORRRC). The ORRRC was charged with assessing the challenges and opportunities relative to outdoor recreation, and with providing recommendations to address their findings.
As a young professional, Hartsoe was working at the National Recreation Association in the midst of enormous social and political change dominating America in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The civil rights and youth movements were at their height. Advocates were speaking on behalf for the inclusion of people with disabilities and demanding the elimination of architectural barriers. Construction of the interstate highway system was in progress, encouraging travel to distant locations for vacations. Tourism was a growth industry and recreation enthusiasts were benefitting from new technologies providing lightweight equipment and diversity in recreation vehicles. Hartsoe and co-author Richard Knapp have chronicled the origin of the National Recreation Association and the changing role it played in giving leadership to America's playground and recreation movement in the text, Play for America. This publication (1974) illustrated how NRA's primary concern evolved from playgrounds and youth activities to promoting organized recreation services and advocating standards for leadership, facilities, and programming.
During this time, four major park and recreation organizations were in active discussion regarding the potential for mutual affiliation, or to even perhaps merge. The National Recreation Association (NRA, founded 1906), American Institute of Park executives (AIPE, founded 1898), American Recreation Society (ARS, founded 1937), and the National Conference on State Parks (NCSP, founded 1921) had been the dominant voices of their respective interest areas during the formative years of the park and recreation movement. In August 1965, representatives of these four national organizations (and members of the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums) met to form what was to become the National Recreation and Park Association, (NRPA). Hartsoe wrote in his book, Building Better Communities, (2006) "for the National Recreation Association, 1966 indeed marked the dawn of a new era, albeit an age which had been arising within the field of parks and recreation for at least a generation. How the ideas, people, and services of the NRA, its followers, its colleagues, and its related organizations were to fare after the rendezvous, is another tale." Indeed, over the ensuing 45 years, Hartsoe influenced NRPA's formation and has given strategic leadership to the coalescing of the Association—sometimes "behind the scenes"—more often "front and center."
An educator and professor at heart, Hartsoe left the National Recreation and Park Association and returned to the University of Illinois. While completing his Ph.D., he assumed leadership for the undergraduate program and curriculum in the Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1968, Dr. Hartsoe became Associate Professor of recreation and parks at Perm State University, and subsequently in 1971, assumed the chairmanship of the Department of Recreation and Leisure Studies at Temple University. From 1977 to retirement in 1995, Hartsoe served as Chairman, Department of Recreation, at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, where he remains Professor Emeritus.
While sustaining academic teaching and administrative responsibilities, Hartsoe's professional endeavors with parks and recreation also fostered a lifetime of contributions, including:
- Founding member (1980) and drafter of the original by-laws forming the American Academy for Park and Recreation (AAPRA). Membership in the American Academy is limited to 125 practicing professionals or educators, with the purpose of advancing knowledge and scholarly efforts related to the administration of parks and recreation.
- President of AAPRA (1985); President of the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society (1975-1977).
- One of the primary organizers of the 1984 International Symposium on "Sports for Everyone," held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Olympic games, Hartsoe nurtured and developed a relationship between various cooperating organizations, culminating in the AAPRA publication of conference proceedings, An International Symposium on Sports for Everyone, promoting recreation as a means for international understanding.
- Hall of Fame: Profiles in Leadership, published in 1965, articulating the legacy of early park and recreation pioneers. The Hall of fame was initiated by AAPRA and is a joint endeavor with NRPA.
- Established the Wirth Environmental Award in 1985, in conjunction with the National Park Foundation, recognizing excellence in land use management. The award honors Theodore and Conrad Wirth, father and son pioneers in recreational land use and park development.
- From 1994 to 2002, served as executive director of the National Recreation Foundation. Hartsoe remains a member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, a position held for the past 30 years. In 2009, Dr. Tony Mobley and Hartsoe completed a book describing the history of the Foundation.
Park and recreation recognition and honors for Hartsoe have been numerous, including the NRPA Distinguished Professional Award (1989); the Ralph C. Wilson Award for Exemplary Volunteer Service to NRPA (2001) the American Park and Recreation Society Distinguished Fellow Award (1983) and designation as an NRPA Life Trustee (2004), to name a few.
From 1976 to 1978, Hartsoe served as a member of the NRPA board of trustees. During this time Hartsoe was one of five founding members of the Joseph E. Lee Memorial Library and Archives. Hartsoe chaired the Library Committee for several years and worked to secure and organize the literary collection and institutional records of NRPA predecessor organizations. The library, located at NPRA headquarters in Ashburn, Virginia, is accessible for research as well as public use. The library houses a collection of late 19th- and 20th-century material that records the emergence of public recreation as a social movement, and the history, use, and development of public park and recreation resources and land conservation. Hartsoe and former NRPA Trustee Board Chairman Harry G. Haskell, Jr., established a permanent library endowment reaching over one million dollars.
Hartsoe's legacy has been memorialized in numerous tributes, but to those who know Hartsoe and have worked with him, express that his most meaningful contributions have been the behind-the-scenes influence, coaching, strategic formulation, and passion to advance the professionalization of park and recreation services. Haskell writes of Hartsoe, "he has often pulled the leadership of NRPA and other facets of the leisure and recreation movement together, to keep the good works in line in preparing for the future. In his quiet way, he summoned leaders to the basics. I can think of no one else in this field who is his equal."
As cited in The Noble Experiment,1 NRPA began as a hybrid organization resulting from a merger of several organizations. Its dual mission—becoming the voice of the park and recreation movement, and serving the needs of the profession—offered both opportunities and challenges. Hartsoe had the unique skills and opportunity of working to achieve the successful merging of ideals creating the National Recreation and Park Association. His influence during four decades of change helped to shape the importance and recognition of park and recreation services in American society, a role Hartsoe continues today as a "man for his time."
'Sessoms, Douglas H, & Henderson, Karla. (2009). The Noble Experiment—National Recreation and Park Association 1965-2005, NRPA Press.