Harry (Hal) G. Haskell, Jr., a successful business executive, former United States Congressman, mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, and ardent citizen advocate, has devoted decades of skillful, articulate leadership to Americas park and recreation movement. Haskell’s vision, advocacy, and dogged determination have helped shape the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) into the 18,000-member organization of today, supporting citizen volunteers, professional park and recreation administrators, and educators across America. "I believe that recreation and saving the environment have everything to do with people’s leisure time and make an enormous difference," Haskell says. Inducted in 1993 as an NRPA life trustee, Haskell served for over 20 years (1974-1996) on the NRPA Board of Trustees and provided leadership as Board Chair from 1980 to 1985, a formative and challenging time of transition in the organization's history.
Haskell’s passion and personal empathy for recreation and the out-of-doors have been life long, Born in Delaware in 1921, he was active in football and numerous other sports during his youth. As an adult, he has been actively engaged in fishing, hunting, golf, tennis, and squash, and fondly recalls summer sail boating with Nelson and David Rockefeller at Mount Desert Island, Maine, Instrumental in the founding of Camp Arrowhead, an Episcopal youth camp in Delaware, Haskell put into practice what he believed, namely that, "involvement in recreation and leisure are essential to personal, mental, and physical health, yielding a full and rewarding life."
Haskell's legacy as a park and recreation advocate, business executive, and public official represents a mosaic of skills, managerial effectiveness, bold policy formulation, and disciplined implementation. After attending Princeton University, Haskell served in the U. S. Coast Guard. His military tour of duty began with patrolling for German submarines off America's Atlantic Coast. Subsequently, upon completion of Officer Candidate School in 1943, he earned an Ensign commission and was assigned to the LST829 as a 1st Lieutenant in the Pacific Theater. Honorably discharged in 1946 with the rank of Lieutenant jg, Haskell earned the Asiatic Pacific Theater Campaign Ribbon with battle star and the Philippine Liberation Ribbon.
On May 3, 1947, Haskell married Mimi Foster, a union that resulted in eight children. Haskell credits Mimi with providing a stabilizing and influential presence in his life. Haskell’s career began as personnel manager at the Speakman Company and as president of Greenhill Dairies, a struggling enterprise that he turned into a profitable business that over five years acquired five other regional dairies and supplied nearly one-quarter of all milk consumed in Delaware. Simultaneously Haskell operated Hill Girt Farm in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, where he continues to live.
Haskell was selected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention every four years from 1952 through 1984, with the exception of 1956, when he was elected U. S. Congressman from Delaware. During the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Haskell served under Oveta Culp Hobby and Nelson Rockefeller, secretary and under secretary respectively, of the newly created Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), an agency assembled from three previously separate departments. Haskell handled personnel and led HEWs Interdepartmental Council, working with the heads of Americas Public Health Services, Social Security, Education, and Food and Drug Administration. The Council addressed such issues as revising Social Security and creating vocational rehabilitation programs. Haskell also represented HEW in the White House Secretariat and United Nations.
As a nationally influential and talented 34-year-old, Haskell was tapped in 1955 as a consultant to Nelson Rockefeller, who at the time served as President Eisenhower’s special assistant for Foreign Affairs (with cabinet status). Rockefeller formed a blue ribbon task force comprised of top governmental officials and private leaders, including Henry Kissinger, to develop policies related to national security and defense. For Haskell, this opportunity to observe national strategic policy development and to learn from Nelson Rockefeller—with whom he had not only served in government but worked with in 1948 on the International Basic Economy Corporation—was life changing. It stimulated and influenced his future leadership in such areas as civil rights, urban youth development, and recreation advocacy.
In 1956, Haskell campaigned for Delaware's sole seat in the U. S. House of Representatives, defeating incumbent Harris McDowell. In that position, Haskell influenced two legislative achievements now listed on the Brookings Institution’s roster of Americas 50 greatest legislative endeavors: Establishment of an air traffic control system and enactment of the National Defense Education Act.
Haskell recalls confidential briefings revealing that several civilian and military air flight "near misses" occurred each day due to antiquated air traffic control equipment and systems. Planes were tracked visually or through haphazard manual procedures that lacked comprehensive coordination and consistency of protocol. Haskell brought this information to the public’s attention, much to the displeasure of the Air Transportation Association and government officials. At the same time, Haskell won support from congressional leaders and airline presidents, including Eddie Rickenbacker, the legendary World War II pilot who had become president of Eastern Airlines, and Dr. James Killian, former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and President Eisenhower's science advisor. In 1957, President Eisenhower signed legislation creating the Airways Modernization Board, which one year later, became the Federal Aviation Administration. Its responsibility for aviation safety, air traffic control, and airway modernization continues to this day.
Haskell regards his involvement in the National Defense Education Act as his most important public accomplishment. Designed to provide institutions of higher learning with funds to support low-interest student loans, the initiative was enacted in response to the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of Sputnik and resulting fears that the United States was falling behind the Soviets in space exploration. Appointed to an influential subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee, Haskell garnered President Eisenhower’s support and the drafting skills of future HEW secretary Elliot L. Richardson to push through a key amendment. Over the years, the NDEA has facilitated the advancement of college and university educations for millions of Americans.
With a progressive record in Congress and recognition as a national and local leader, Haskell responded to a call to run for Mayor of Wilmington, Delaware. The city was engulfed in major controversy over the continuing presence of National Guard troops who had been summoned to quell rioting but remained on the streets for months, eventually constituting the longest military occupation of an American city since the Civil War. Haskell ran against this continuing presence, and worked with incoming Governor Russell Peterson, who promptly removed the troops.
As Mayor, Haskell built upon his longstanding commitment to civil rights and increasing opportunities for minorities. He transformed city government, establishing public policy and protocols, many of which remain in practice today. For example, Haskell diversified Wilmington's tax base from a single major source, the property tax, to a combination of property tax and income tax. With the support of Delaware and Pennsylvania governors, he led efforts to protect the regionally significant Brandywine Creek from environmental degradation and abuse, representing an early example of multi-jurisdictional, comprehensive watershed management.
Haskell's business and corporate endeavors continued during his congressional and mayoral tenure. Examples include the founding, construction, and U.S. market penetration of Union 76truck stops—a then-novel concept of clustering fast food franchises at these facilities—and service as Chairman of the Board and CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, an outdoor recreation and equipment supply company. To gain attention for a new mountain climbing shop within Abercrombie and Fitch, Haskell rappelled down the side of the 11-story flagship store in New York City. During the 1980s and 1990s, Haskell invested in and served as CEO of Inertial Motors, a producer of machines capable of starting and stopping 2,000 times per second.
Haskell has also created non-profit organizations to implement his social and educational beliefs. In 1969, for example, he founded and chaired Dynamy, a Worchester, Massachusetts-based non-profit experiential educational organization to challenge, support, and empower young people to discover their life purpose and ambition through Outward Bound and internships. Youth participate in a series of enrichment activities, skill challenges, and self-initiated projects. Dynamy continues today, having served hundreds of young people.
Haskell’s other leadership and initiatives include Outward Bound, the Brandywine Land Conservancy, Delaware Futures, the National Wild Turkey Federation, and the Episcopal Church Foundation, all representing a philanthropic legacy of time, talent, and financial resources. He has received honorary degrees from Fisk University of Tennessee and Hobart College in New York.
One of Haskell’s greatest and most lasting activities has been his longtime support for the park and recreation movement, his legacy culminating in his contributions to the National Recreation and Park Association. Formation of the NRPA has been referred to as "A Noble Experiment."1 Indeed, the 1965 merger of four organizations with similar yet disparate goals and membership compositions created anxiety and financial challenges from its origin. The tension between the dual mission of NRPA to provide public visibility in advocacy as juxtaposed to professional and technical membership services presented a dichotomy requiring diplomacy, balance, and “just plain good management." Haskell joined the NRPA Board in 1974 at the beginning of NRPA’s second decade. It was a critical time in the organization's history since NRPA Executive Director Dwight Rettie resigned in 1975 after a tenure plagued by financial difficulties. NRPA's public relations efforts, however, were yielding favorable national attention, with U.S. News and World Report (May 23, 1977) featuring recreation and citing NRPA as the major voice for the movement.
In 1976, Haskell championed the appointment of John Davis as NRPA executive director. Davis was a former director of the State of Georgia Park and Recreation Division, and past president of the NRPA Board of Trustees. Immediate progress was made on several fronts, including the successful launching of the National Commission on Accreditation, which approved park and recreation education curricula as a field of professional practice. Within NRPA, Haskell's Board leadership became apparent with the 1977 establishment of the Joseph E. Lee Memorial Library as a quasi-autonomous operation of the NRPA. Through Haskell's effort, the library endowment was independently managed by the Board's Library and Archives Committee and placed in a separate interest-bearing account. Over the years, the library endowment grew to $1 million, supporting an archivist to collect and organize publications of the association and its predecessor organization, as well as critical historical publications of the park and recreation movement.
Haskell was elected chair of the NRPA Board of Directors in 1980, serving through 1985. Significantly, it was during this time that the American Academy for Parks and Recreation was founded (1980), in part due to the growing awareness and importance of parks and recreation in America. The NRPA had grown to over 17,000 members, and its strengthened leadership launched a new film project, In Search of Balance, released nationally with two 30-second public service announcements. Another public awareness program Life. Be in It! drew support and personal attention from Chairman Haskell. As Executive Director Davis recalls, "Chairman Haskell arranged for the two of us to go to Melbourne, Australia, to discuss application of Life. Be in It! in the United States. An agreement was reached and a signing ceremony held in Washington, D.C. Many park and recreation departments used the ads on their local television stations with positive results. Haskell and others also promoted Life. Be in it! to the National Advertising Council."
During Haskell's tenure as Board Chair, "the growth of the Association, recreation, and parks, came of age," Davis recalls. Upon conclusion of the 1984 Orlando NRPA Congress, Haskell' reported that "the Congress was the most successful annual conference in NRPA history, with a 30-percent increase in attendance." Public demand for recreation was on the rise, and local governments were sponsoring new recreation and park programs and initiatives as an essential component of government services. This was an exciting time for NRPA and the field it represents. Not surprisingly, hope for a permanent, highly visible national headquarters for NRPA was high, and Chairman Haskell led the Board s site selection process. The headquarters initiative proved to be a lengthy process, culminating in the dedication of the Ahrens National Institute for Park and Recreation on June 27, 1997 in Ashburn, Virginia, one year following Haskell's departure from the Board.
The dedication and service of many park and recreation professionals and citizen volunteers have formed the fabric of NRPA's history and legacy. However, much of the growth, maturing, and achievement of NRPA during the two decades 1974 to 1996, reflect the citizen service of Board members and NRPA Board Chairman Harry (Hal) Haskell, Jr., a passionate individual who has dedicated his life to improving the future of parks, recreation, and youth in America.