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Willard C. Sutherland

1902 - 1994

Inducted October 2003

 "The stor y of the recreation movement will not be one of organizational charts, constitutions, structure, and committees; rather, it will be the story of its leadership."
~Willard C. Sutherland

In June 1927, an A.B. degree in his hand, Willard Sutherland graduated from Drake University in Des Moines, IA, where he had made a name for himself as a student and an athlete. His interest in recreation was made evident by the fact that, in October of that same year, he applied for enrollment in the National Recreation School and was accepted. The school, then in its second year, conducted an intensive one-year graduate course designed to develop broad executive leadership for the recreation movement.

Upon graduating from the National Recreation School in May 1928 as one of the top ranked students in his class, he was employed by the National Recreation Association (NRA) beginning on July 1, 1928. His professional contributions to the recreation movement were made through the National Recreation Association and its successor, the National Recreation and Park Association for more than 40 years.

In his earlier years with the NRA, Sutherland was in the field promoting organized recreation in numerous communities and assisting with the work of the Field Department at the national NRA headquarters. It was not long, however, until his aptitude for personnel work became apparent. In 1934, this led to his assignment as director to the Association’s Recreation Personnel Service.

With his leadership, the NRA developed a comprehensive personnel system that included a national registration program, a placement service, an expansion of regional and national training programs, and a cooperative national internship program between the Association and some of the premier local recreation and park departments. Sutherland, called “Woody” by friends and colleagues, participated in an extensive college visitation program where he met with recreation and park faculty and students.

He also played an important role in elevating the status of recreation as a profession. He was instrumental in having recreation mentioned as a career in the College Placement Annual, the Peace Corps Occupational Manual, and the Directory of Occupational Titles.

By 1963 some 13,000 personnel records (both active and inactive) were on file with the NRA. In that same year, the NRA’s Personnel Service received over 9,000 communications related to personnel services which resulted in over 17,000 outgoing communications. This included 6,000 notices to candidates about over 400 position vacancies. It also included 964 sets of formal confidential personnel records sent to employers on request.

Sutherland edited a monthly column in Recreation magazine on personnel matters. In addition, he authored several publications on the recruitment and training of recreation personnel. He also conducted a major study on “Recreation as a Profession in the Southern Region.”

He established the very successful annual National Institute in Recreation Administration, which was held in conjunction with the National Congress. The institute was always over-subscribed. From 1928 through 1969, Sutherland was centrally involved in establishing university curricula and developing training programs. He played a major role in formulating the recreation and park profession as we know it today.

Sutherland established a national internship program in cooperation with several recreation and park departments across the nation. NRPA past-president, Robert Toalson was among the first to complete this program. Toalson is seen receiving his certificate of achievement, from Philadelphia’s recreation commissioner, Robert Crawford. Toalson went on to serve as president as both National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy for Parks and Recreation Administration. Building Better Communities


Last graduating class of the NRA School, 1935. The school was established in 1926 for professional training. Among the top ranked students in the class of 1928, Sutherland gained employment upon graduation with the National Recreation Association in July of 1928.
National Recreation and Park Association Archives

In an interview prior to his retirement, his thoughts about the profession he served so well were recorded and bear repeating: On the NRPA:
“The inherent power of the merger of park, recreation, and conservation agencies has given the Association the greatest potential for good of any organization.”

On advising today’s graduates:
“The young graduate should be sure that he has a belief, not just an interest in the profession. If he has a commitment and is oriented toward growth, spiritual stature and opportunity for service, he need never worry about security.”

On the Park and Recreation leadership:
“The story of the recreation movement will not be one of organizational charts, constitutions, structure, and committees; rather, it will be the story of its leadership.”
“The leader of the future will have a highly developed personal philosophy of life and a well thought out philosophy of leisure. He will be steeped in the behavioral sciences.”
“Leadership in quality and quantity is our number one problem. The profession that does not recruit its own is doomed to mediocrity at best.”
“I believe that the most important responsibility of an executive is the development of people. All that we accomplish, all that we get done is through people.”

In his retirement in Florida, Sutherland gave countless volunteer hours to the American Red Cross, to the Presbyterian Church, and to local hospitals. He was the ultimate volunteer even to his 90th year.

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.

  • American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration. (1983). Legends of the American Park and Recreation Association. Downloaded on May 10, 2008 from http://www.aapra.org/ legends.html
  • National Recreation Association. (October 1952). Person. Recreation. 294.
  • National Recreation Association. ( June, 1956). Development and growth of a profession. Recreation. 300-302.
  • National Recreation Association. ( July, 1968). This is your National Recreation Association, Parks & Recreation. 35 & 50.

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