Recipient Biography

Joe Crookham


One would be hard pressed to describe the contributions Joe Crookham has made to the park and recreation profession because his impact has been so diverse and broad.
Joe was born in and is a lifelong resident of Oskaloosa, Iowa a town of 11,000 people. Joe's parents had a strong commitment to education, valued getting a broad perspective of the world and had a strong belief in personal and social responsibility. Both placed an emphasis on caring about people and their community.

Joe said he can remember as a child most times when he asked his parents a question, they would point to the room with the dictionary, almanac and encyclopedia. Growing up in Oskaloosa, Joe participated in every team sport available and, in the process, developed an enjoyment and appreciation of the value of a team of individuals working together for the common good. This important personal observation followed him to adulthood and became the foundation of his business philosophy. Joe started out college as physics major because of his natural curiosity and interest in all technical things. Like most college students, Joe eventually changed his major first to political science and eventually received his BA and MBA in accounting from the University of Iowa.
After a year working as a systems analyst, Joe made the decision to attend Drake Law School in Des Moines, Iowa. He practiced law for 12 years. In February of 1968 during the first month of practicing law, he met Myron Gordin. An engineer working at a local company, Myron came in the law office to have a contract drawn up. While that was being done, Myron and Joe talked about a small hand tool company Myron was starting. Joe mentioned to Myron that he'd be interested in helping part time if that would be useful. So began the partnership that would eventually spell success for Musco Lighting. In their first year of working in partnership, their gross sales were $792. Over the next few years, they bought a few small product lines hoping to put together a business that was sustainable.  

Joe realized that they needed to find a business where they could take advantage of Myron's design skills and Joe’s sales and marketing skills. Musco Lighting was started in 1976 when Joe and Myron bought the Muscatine Lighting Manufacturing Co. in Muscatine, Iowa. It was a defunct company but was in an industry that fit their business objectives.

For more than 35 years Musco has pioneered technology to allow lighted recreational sports facilities to be more compatible in residential areas where they are convenient to more kids and not disruptive to the neighbors. In 1977, they introduced its newly-created Sportscluster, the first factory-assembled system for lighting sports facilities.

Over the next few years, they added factory aiming, electrical components at the pole base, spill and glare control while they continued to make the system more simple and reliable. Soon they added an operational management tool named Control Link which was intended to meet the most commonly expressed problem of “lights on and no one on the field”. Additionally this feature allowed facility schedules to be inputted thereby eliminating the need for a facility attendant to turn lights on and off resulting in saved labor costs; offered energy savings by ensuring that lights are operated only when they are needed; and provided a method of detecting when lights have burnt out so that they can be replaced quickly and efficiently.

In 1982, the Musco Team launched a revolutionary temporary lighting system Musco Mobile Lighting in which lighting fixtures were erected from trucks. Among its first clients was the University of Notre Dame where their Stadium was lighted for their very first night game. Mobile lighting helped establish recognition for the Musco Team’s innovations. A side benefit was expanded customer service resulting in the Musco Team motto “We make it happen”. This became the foundation for service to cities and schools recreation and athletic fields.

In 1983, Musco lit its first Super Bowl and assisted in the filming of All the Right Moves. In 1984, it was the official lighting supplier for the 1984 Olympic Games. From 1988 to 2012, the Musco team has been chosen to light thousands of sports facilities including the Daytona International Speedway, Yankees Stadium, Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex, Yas Marina Formula One Circuit in Abu Dhabi and Joe’s favorite, Lamade Stadium, home of the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. More than 20 years of big events are nice, but it’s about the recreational facilities providing opportunities for family and kids that brings Joe his greatest personal satisfaction. 

Over the years, Joe has demonstrated his understanding of his parents’ lesson of the importance of corporate responsibility. Joe dispatched a lighting truck from the Musco system, along with a Musco team member, to provide crucial lighting for the 1995 Oklahoma City Federal Building terrorist bombing search and recovery efforts. In 2001, following the September 11 terrorist attacks, Musco provided the same equipment and staff to illuminate both The Pentagon and World Trade Center during those very dark days.

In 1986 Myron Gordin, Joe P. Crookham, Jim Drost and David Crookham received a Scientific and Engineering Award for "the invention of a method of transporting adjustable, high-intensity luminaires and their application to the motion picture." Musco has also received an Emmy Award for lighting college football telecasts.

Additionally, Musco has been a member of the International Dark-Sky Association since shortly after the organization’s creation in 1988. This organization exists to preserve and protect the nighttime environment and our heritage of dark skies through quality outdoor lighting. Those are a few examples of Joe’s impact on the sports lighting business. However, equally important is his role as an advocate for parks and recreation across the nation. He has become personally involved at the local, state, national and international level in assisting to provide quality services to the nation. Following are a few examples of his accomplishments.

In spite of developing and heading a multinational corporation, Joe has remained active in Oskaloosa and Mahaska County, and over the years has actively strived to build a sustainable community. He has been instrumental in many community development projects, especially those that help create educational and recreational opportunities for area residents. He has also been active in the economic development arena, supporting infrastructure development, downtown redevelopment and historic renovation.

Joe continues to espouse that partnerships are essential to achieving maximum value from community assets. He led the formation of Mahaska Community Recreation Foundation that is made up of City, County, Schools, YMCA, as well as private businesses to develop recreational opportunities within his community. This has resulted in the creation of a 200-acre sports complex with a turf football/soccer stadium that is shared between the local William Penn University, High School and Elementary School. The stadium was opened in September of 2011. One hundred twenty-one events were hosted there between September and October of that same year.

He conceived and led the construction of a 15-mile paved recreation trail that circles the community and led initiatives to preserve and renovate several historic buildings within the Oskaloosa Town Square. He is on the Oskaloosa Downtown Development Board, President of the Mahaska County Recreation Foundation, President of the Community Research Institute of William Penn University, Chair of the William Penn University Board of Trustees and a trustee of the George Daily Family Trust. Musco donated several million dollars to William Penn University in Oskaloosa to build 200,000 feet of new structures. It was the largest grant in school history.

Joe is well known in not only Iowa but in the surrounding states as an advocate for parks and recreation. He gives willingly of his time and of his resources to support many statewide projects, particularly those that involve needed lighting. He is an active philanthropist at the state level as demonstrated by his involvement as the first President and a benefactor of the Iowa Parks Foundation.

Joe has generously given to national organizations that promote parks and recreation services, programs and facilities. He was the second largest contributor to the fundraising campaign that resulted in the creation of the Ahrens Institute, which serves as the National Recreation and Park Association’s headquarters building. After providing his generous gift, he agreed to serve as a member of the National Recreation and Park Association Board of Trustees, a position he held for eight years.

In 1994, the Gold Medal Awards Program which recognizes high-performing and creative park and recreation agencies in the United States lost its sponsor. Because he believed that it was important to support excellence and wanted Musco to be associated with this program, he agreed to sponsor the Gold Medal Awards Program and remains its sole sponsor today. He joined with the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration to ensure that this important Awards Program continued. He has become much more than a sponsor. He has become a partner in helping to develop the program. Through his encouragement and financial support, a reception is held at the NRPA Congress to recognize each year’s finalists prior to the presentation of the Award to the final winners.

Joe was asked by the Secretary of Interior Norton to join the National Park Foundation Board of Directors, an organization in which he served for six years. This organization is the only congressionally-mandated fundraising partner for the National Parks. Joe initiated a program to enable our National Parks to provide examples of Good Lighting Practices which preserve the night skies, and reduce energy consumption.

As a National Park Foundation Board member, Joe donated Musco’s time and energy to design and light the exterior of the White House using LED technology. This lighting project not only improved the beauty of this national iconic building, but also resulted in an 87% reduction in energy usage. By spearheading this project, Musco pioneered the use of LED lights on large scale structures for the lighting industry.

Musco also designed and donated a unique lighting system to relight the Washington Monument. This new system: (1) created a much more uniform lighting solution; (2) eliminated the aesthetically unpleasing vaults used to formerly house the Monument’s lighting; (3) improved safety and reduced maintenance; and (4) resulted in 50% less energy usage than the previous lighting installation. Musco agreed to pay for the maintenance of this system for the next decade.

Also Musco donated lighting for Big Bend National Park that was a major component of that park recently being designated as an International Dark Sky Park by the Dark Skies Association. Musco has also designed and donated the lighting for the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Joe and Musco have funded “The Good Lighting Practices Fellowship and Research Fund” at Clemson University. This fellowship is for a PhD student to study and research over three years the social aspects of the introduction of lighting in the night time environment for parks and protected areas. This reflects Joe’s constant effort to give back to our youth and to the environment through this study. We are entering the third year of this important research that will benefit national parks and all protected areas. 

Joe was asked to serve as a member of the National Recreation and Park Foundation, a fundraising partner of the National Recreation and Park Association. He currently is serving on the Board of Governors of this Board raising funds to support the Association.

If these accomplishments weren’t enough, Joe has served as a member of the Little League Baseball Foundation Board for decades. In the early 1990s, in response to the challenge of fast-rising insurance costs facing Little League Baseball, Joe played a major role in conceiving a unique program called ASAP, A Safety Awareness Program. The program was developed with grassroots input and is focused upon developing a grassroots awareness of safety as opposed to a system of top-down rules. In operation since 1994, the program boasts of more than 80% participation by the 7,000 leagues making up the organization. Annual reported injury claims has been reduced by more than 70%. Fewer injuries have resulted in better insurance rates for Little League thereby allowing them to spend more on the youth participant.

Because Joe’s business has become more internationally involved, his interests in connecting people to their parks and recreation facilities and programs have expanded in many countries. He recently donated lighting for Kimisagaro neighborhood play area located in a heavily-populated area of Kigali, Rwanda so that children in the neighborhood have extended opportunities for play.

Joe’s partner in Musco and in life is his wife, Jeanie Bieri. Joe and his wife, Jeanie, who manages the marketing department for Musco, make their home in Oskaloosa, Iowa. Joe has three grown daughters, one of whom works with them at Musco. In spite of his many extracurricular activities and involvement in a thriving business, Joe is an avid fan of his grandchildren, Max and Ruby, and participates in their extracurricular activities whenever he can.

In closing, Joe’s leadership on a local, state and national basis has truly made a tremendous difference in our profession. He is very deserving of the Pugsley Award recognition, the highest award given by the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. [current as of 11/2012]