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George D. Butler

1894 - 1985

Inducted October 1995

 "The function of playground administration is to bring to reality the limitless possibilities which the playground affords for fun and good citizenship"
~George D. Butler

George Butler’s legacy to the park and recreation profession has infl uenced communities throughout the world. He was one of the fi rst to recognize the benefi ts of parks and recreation in human development. The open space standards he developed in the 1930s guide students, educators, and administrators in the profession to this day. Butler was one of the fi rst instructors of the National Recreation School where he encouraged others to apply these standards in the design and operations of their programs and in their facilities.

Butler came to the National Recreation Association soon after returning from active duty during World War I. An economics major and member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society, Butler earned his degree from Yale University in 1916. His undergraduate studies in French led him to enlist in the military as a section clerk and part-time translator for the United States Ambulance Service, which supported the French Army. For his acts of “courage and endurance,” George Butler was awarded the Croix de Guerre Medallion, one of France’s highest honors.

In the summer of 1919, Butler returned from military duty to New Haven and his former work with the Yale Bureau of Appointments. Shortly after returning from overseas, he was offered two permanent job positions: one from the National Recreation Association (NRA) and the other from a banking firm, the Guarantee Trust Company. Following his social service calling, Butler signed on as a probationary employee for an annual salary of $1,700 with the NRA. Within two months, Howard Braucher, the NRA’s executive secretary, offered Butler a raise and a permanent position as director of research. He accepted and occupied this position for the next 43 years. Soon after Butler joined the Association, the Consultation and Correspondence Bureau was formed as a central clearing house for information and for addressing inquiries. Butler was put in charge and became one of the most persistent proponents of research in the park and recreation field.

At a program honoring volunteers at Bay Village of Sarasota, George Butler was named King of Volunteers for 1981. Volunteers gave from 1,200 to 1,300 hours of service each month in the health center, vesper services, library, and grounds.
Sarasota Herals - Tribune, November 2, 1981

George Butler, atop Prospect Mountain, Lake George, NY, August 1970.
Courtesy of Joseph J. Bannon

Early in the 20th century there was no park or recreation infrastructure to speak of, no established guidelines for doing things, and no system within which to work. Butler set out to lay an effective foundation for service delivery. First, he articulated the importance of playgrounds for the healthy upbringing of children. Second, he became one of the first instructors in the National Recreation School. Third, he underscored the importance of research to the growth and development of the park and recreation profession. Last and possibly most important, through a series of books ranging from Playgrounds: Their Administration and Operation (1936), to Introduction to Community Recreation (1940), to Recreation Areas: Their Design and Equipment (1947), to Pioneers in Public Recreation (1965), Butler catalogued the principles, practices, and pioneers that formed the foundation of the contemporary leisure service delivery system. If that was not enough, Butler was assigned to direct three studies of municipal parks in 1930, 1935, and 1940: the first in cooperation with the United States Department of Labor, the second with National Park Service, and the third with the American Institute of Park Executives. These reports provide a picture of the municipal and county park movement at the time which is not available from any other source.

Butler’s interests in community affairs were many. He volunteered as a scoutmaster and taught Sunday school at his neighborhood church. He also served as chairman or president for such local groups as the Home-School Association, the Playground Committee, the Board of Adjustment, and the Men’s Club. Perhaps the one of which he was most proud was his membership on the Recreation Commission of Leonia, NJ, his hometown. He served the commission from 1946 to 1962. In honor of his contribution, Leonia named its community center gymnasium after him.

Butler helped establish the ground floor upon which most all subsequent research, planning, and policy is based in the park and recreation field. The aspects of service that seem so commonplace today exist because Butler had the vision to bring them into fruition. He was a great thinker, a pathfinder, and groundbreaker. His life’s work survives by each new research proposal, and his memory will be long cherished. George Butler is not only one of the true pioneers in recreation and parks, he paved the way of research possibilities and changed the direction of the leisure field making it more credible through research.

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • Ibrahim, H. (1989). Pioneers in leisure and recreation. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.
  • Dustin, D.L. (October 12, 2004). Making pictures out of clouds: Lessons from the life and times of George D. Butler, George Butler Lecture Leisure Research Symposium.
  • National Recreation Association (February, 1948). At headquarters…George Butler. Recreation. 543 & 545.
  • National Recreation Association (January, 1963). George Butler retires: Forty-three years of service. Recreation. 17 & 34.



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