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Theresa S. Brungardt

1894 - 1990

Inducted October 1997

 "Recreation is re-creation and that thru play we shall have life and have it more abundantly."
~Theresa S. Brungardt

Originally from New Jersey, Theresa “Tess” Schmidt Brungardt began her career in recreation in 1917. While still in her teens, she joined the staff of the Playground and Recreation Association of America (PRAA) during the hectic period of World War I. After a time in the headquarters offi ce working as a clerk, she was assigned to Greenville, SC, where she established a successful community recreation program. Later she served for several years as the fi eld secretary for the Association for New England. While in this position, Brungardt gained the confi dence and acquaintance of local and state authorities as she assisted them in the development of their recreation programs. Theresa Brungardt’s experiences with the Association served as a foundation for a rewarding and successful career in the recreation profession.

Following the Vermont Governor’s First State Conference on Recreation in 1943, Governor William H. Wills employed Theresa Brungardt as Vermont’s fi rst director of recreation. This appointment was in conjunction with the formation of the Vermont State Recreation Committee. In 1947, this committee evolved through legislative action into the State Board of Recreation. At the time, Vermont was one of two states that had established a Board of Recreation. Brungardt served as the director of the State Board of Recreation from 1947 until her retirement in 1964.

Few guidelines were available to Brungardt as she set about promoting recreation in this rural state. She accepted this as a challenge rather than as a deterrent. Her energy and enthusiasm, combined with her knowledge of recreation through her early work with the PRAA, resulted in remarkable growth in community recreation throughout Vermont. Many small cities throughout the state established recreation departments under her leadership. Smaller communities were encouraged to provide recreational opportunities through the coordination of volunteer or part-time leaders. The people of Vermont were exposed to the importance of recreation through annual conferences, which Brungardt promoted through her invitation of national recreation leaders as participants. She also provided regional training courses that prepared community leaders for special events. The opportunities for events such as the country-dance helped perpetuate more traditional forms of recreation throughout the state.

An example of the devotion that Brungrardt had in the promotion of recreation at the time was originally published in the Journal of the American Association for Health, Physical Education, and Recreation.

One snowy and sleety evening last winter in Vermont, state police were broadcasting warnings to stay off the highways. A little community in the hills, miles from the State House, was expecting the state recreation director to give a talk on recreation, followed by a Valentine’s party demonstration. The director telephoned one of the 10 families who lived in the scattered farming community and reported on the dangerous travel conditions. The reply was, “We know it’s bad but you can’t disappoint us–everyone is coming and the refreshments are all made!”
There was splendid cooperation with all other state departments. A state trooper drove the director over the treacherous roads. The little community had asked for help from the state department of recreation on what to do to keep its young folks in the village Saturday nights. “What can we do except play whist and pitch?” the parents asked. After the program, while everyone enjoyed sandwiches, cake, and coffee, then and there plans were made to have the one-room school lighted every Saturday night. Now, stormy or clear, the young folks have fun in their own community.


According to her colleagues, probably no person has ever worked harder for recreation in Vermont than Brungardt. She was the primary organizer of the Vermont Recreation and Park Association, was actively involved in the work of the Vermont Federation of Women’s Clubs, the Vermont Girl Scout Council and president of the Vermont Conference on Social Welfare.

American Recreation Society “bigwigs” at the White House Conference on Aging huddle with Theresa Brungardt, a member of the national committee for the session. From left: Foster Blaisdell, ARS President; Dr. Harold Meyer, ARS Conference Representative; and ARS Executive Director Howard Jeffrey.
American Recreation Journal, February 1961

While director of recreation, Brungardt became know nationally for her knowledge, abilities, and experience. National events often invited her to speak, including the White House Conferences on Children and Youth and the White House Conference on the Aging. She served on numerous state and national boards and committees consisting of the National Recreation and Park Association’s Board of Trustees, and the National United Service Organizations (USO) Council. Her professional standing was evident by her election as the first female president of the American Recreation Society in 1952, her appointment as recreation chairman of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers, and election as vice-president of the Federation of National Professional Organization for Recreation.

Few have strived to advance the recreation movement and develop leisure opportunities in communities and small towns as Brungardt. Her involvement in the profession continued even after her retirement in 1964 when she became a board member of the citizen branch of the National Recreation and Park Association. Among the numerous reco-gnitions Brungardt received during her life were the American Recreation Society Fellow Award and Presidential Citation; the Distinguished Professional and Life Member awards of the National Recreation and Park Association; and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Windham College. Since 1974, the Vermont Recreation and Parks Association have paid tribute to her contributions annually with the Theresa S. Brungardt Awards. Brungardt was a genuine pioneer in recreation and many would say a force to be reckoned with in her own right.

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.

  • Butler, G.D. (1965). Pioneers in public recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • National Recreation Association (March, 1964). People in the recreation news, Recreation. 147.



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