Recipient Biography

Dr. Joe Bannon


Dr. Joe Bannon's many contributions to the field have been made while he has occupied four different roles during the course of his career: professional; educator; consultant; and book publisher. After completing an undergraduate degree at Ithaca College and a master's degree at the University of Illinois, he assumed the position of Superintendent of Recreation in Leonia, New Jersey. In 1963, he became the General Superintendent of the Topeka, Kansas Recreation Commission. In 1966, Dr. Bannon returned to the University of Illinois to become the Chief of the Office of Recreation and Park Resources, which was the outreach arm of the Department. While in this position, he completed his Ph.D. In 1973 he was appointed head of the Department of Leisure Studies. He remained in this leadership position until his retirement.

During his tenure at Illinois he authored or co-authored nine books on the subject of management which is his speciality. His initiative and drive led him to co-found the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (JPRA) in 1984. JPRA is now in its nineteenth year of publication and is established as one of the field's major journals. During the 1980s and 1990s there was a movement away from the park and recreation administration option in university departments, and the existence of JPRA has been crucial to the retention of that option.

In 1974, Dr. Bannon founded a consulting company, Management Learning Laboratories. The company completed master plans, feasibility studies, and market studies for many park and recreation agencies across the country. In addition, it arranged seminar and workshop programs both in the U.S. and abroad.

The final phase of Dr. Bannon's career has been as a publisher. He is the founder and CEO of two publishing companies based in Urbana, Illinois: Sports Publishing, Inc. and Sagamore Publishing. Sport Publishing, Inc. focuses primarily on sports books for the popular market and offers biographies of famous sports figures. Sagamore Publishing has published over 100 books which address park and recreation issues. Sagamore was founded in 1983 at a time when the major national publishing houses were withdrawing from the parks and recreation field because they considered it to be too small to be profitable. Sagamore stepped into this void and has been an important resource in providing texts for college curricula and disseminating information to professionals in the field. Throughout his life, Dr. Bannon has been in the forefront of the parks and recreation field at the national level. He has been a forceful advocate for the field in numerous forums and has earned widespread respect among his peers.

Dr. Joseph J. Bannon: 40 Years and No Slowing Down
by Denise M. Anderson, Ph.D. Candidate
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
Source: Academy Bulletin, 1996

After forty years in the field of leisure, Dr. Joseph J. Bannon has found his own leisure niche. "Golf, running and my grandkids," answers Bannon when asked how he spends his leisure time. But do not look for Bannon to retire anytime soon in order to enjoy more leisure time.

Bannon came to the field of parks and recreation in 1958 as a graduate student in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at the University of Illinois. Under the tutelage of Dr. Alan Sapora, he soon became "hooked" on the field"I graduated with a degree in Physical Education from Ithaca College in New York. After graduation, I was looking at graduate programs at Indiana University and Illinois and one of my instructors pushed me to work with Dr. Charles Brightbill and Dr. Sapora at Illinois" explains Bannon. "I thought I would teach P.E. during the school year and then work in parks and recreation during the summer; I was looking for something to do. But after arriving at Illinois I was no longer interested in physical education at all."

After leaving Illinois in 1958 with his M.S. in hand, Bannon started his career as a practitioner in Leonia, New Jersey, as the Superintendent of the Leonia Recreation Commission. "It was a town of 8,000, I knew everyone and everyone knew me, it was a very meaningful experience."

But after eight years, Bannon was ready for a new challenge. That challenge was in the form of serving as the General Superintendent of the Topeka Recreation Commission in Topeka, Kansas. "In Topeka we had more resources. I worked at developing art programs and we built a number of swimming pools while I was there - there was a lot of building," say Bannon of his Topeka tenure.

However, Illinois soon came calling. "When Al Sapora became the department head he asked me to return as the Chief of the Office of Recreation and Park Resources," says Bannon. "I couldn't turn him down." Thus began the second phase of Bannon's career, that of an academician.

Bannon's tenure at Illinois spanned from 1966 to 1991 during which time he earned his Ph.D. and served as the Department Head. While serving as the department head, Bannon worked on changing the name of the department from Parks and Recreation to Leisure Studies. "We went to the faculty senate with a proposal to change it to "Leisure Science" but we knew the physics and biology guys wouldn't go for that, all along we knew we would be happy with 'Leisure Studies' so we used that as our bargaining chip," says Bannon.

While on faculty at Illinois, Bannon advised over fifty student Master's theses and Doctoral dissertations. He also did a large amount of foreign scholarship traveling to Japan, China, Korea, South Africa, Germany, Netherlands, and Italy. Additionally, the department developed an off campus program where courses were offered all over the state thus allowing professionals to earn either an M.S. or an M.A.

However, despite his success at Illinois, he eventually became restless. "I get bored easily, I guess it's part of my personality," says Bannon. "What I have liked the most about each stage of my career has been the development phase. I like building and creating something new, but once it gets running I would rather let someone else run it and move on to something new."

In 1984 that something new was an idea hatched in a family room - Sagamore Publishing. While Bannon had served as the President of Management Learning Laboratories (MLL) since 1974, by 1984 he was ready to take on the publishing world. "We started with one publication, Management Strategies, which today has a subscription base of 6000 practitioners. We saw a need for texts in this field as bigger publishers, facing money crunches, quit publishing within our field. We aimed to fill the gap."

And fill the gap they have. In 1987, Sagamore started a trade book division which concentrates primarily on sports books for the popular market. Today, the company has been broken into two distinct companies - Sagamore Publishing and Sports Publishing, Inc.

Having been a practitioner, an academician, and a businessman, Bannon has the authority to engage in discussions on a number of subjects within the field. In fact, in 1987, as part of the J.B. Nash Scholar Lecture Series, Bannon presented his thoughts on the future of leisure in a lecture entitled "Managing Leisure Services in a Decade Ahead." How have his ideas held up? "The energies and efforts of people in leisure have tried to make changes but change is slow to recognize. The economic downfall of the past prevented some of the changes from occurring. However, I do see an enormous effort on the part of practitioners to change with the times to meet new demands."

For future practitioners, Bannon also offers some advice. "Make sure you understand the depth and breadth of the field and choose your career steps accordingly. Don't get a fix on what you are going to do until you explore the field and all it has to offer."

Along the same lines, Bannon would point to his philosophy on educating future practitioners as a good piece of advice for everyone in a position to teach. "Don't tell students what to do but why do it, otherwise they will be lost as a practitioner."

Bannon lists fairness as the most important lesson that he himself learned in his career. "I always tried to be fair in each part of my career" he says. "While not everyone always agreed with my decisions, if I could go home and sleep having been fair and honest I felt that was an accomplishment."

Besides fairness, Bannon can certainly point to a number of other accomplishments that he has achieved over the past four decades. Bannon is a founding member of the American Academy of Recreation and Park Administrators and a founding fellow of the Academy of Leisure Sciences. Among others, Bannon has also received the J.B. Nash Scholar award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Mid-America Publishers, an Appreciation Award from the State of Illinois, the National Distinguished Professional Award from the National Recreation and Park Association, and the Distinguished Fellow Award from the Society of Park and Recreation Educators. The list of awards is impressive. However, the accomplishments that Bannon points to himself as the most important are raising his two sons and being a grandparent.

And when asked when he might consider retiring, this legend has an even more succinct answer - "Never."