History Can Be Fun

The ramblings of a researcher into IPRA's beginnings.


Researching the history of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (IPRA) was fun. It allowed me to go back to the actual roots of the park and recreation profession in Illinois. I found some interesting information that may shed some light as to why the profession is so strong in Illinois today. I also discovered that it is difficult to determine how old IPRA really is. (Age is a state of mind anyway.)

The first attempt to form a statewide recreation association happened in 1935. A few meetings were held, and then it died out in 1937 with the Works Projects Administration (WPA), a work program established by President Theodore Roosevelt that built many of Illinois' first swimming pools.

IPRA professionals pose for a group picture
at the association's first booth at the Illinois State Fair:


The next information that I could find was for the year 1944 when a conference of Illinois recreation workers was held at the University of Illinois. Thirty-five people attended the first conference and most of the education centered on postwar planning and getting people trained in recreation. The attendees must have had a great time since they decided that it was time to organize an Illinois Recreation Association (IRA). Its main purposes were to continue the state conference, act as a clearinghouse for tax problems (sound familiar), address legal issues, and conduct postwar planning.

Russel Perry, director of recreation in Aurora, was selected to develop the constitution for IRA. (Must have been a good one because we are still here.) IRA's 1945 dues were $2.50 to $25, depending on the population of the city. (I wonder how that relates to current dollars.) In 1946, me dues structure was changed to center on individuals, not departments, Professionals paid $1 and cities were now only $5. (Guess our forefathers thought $20 to $25 was too high and that the individuals should pay their own way.)

Research was a high priority for early IRA members. A few issues studied were salaries and car allowances (Did they have cars back then?), youth programming, recreational use of schools, and legislation. What was important to our founders is still important today.

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The first newsletter was published in 1947 with Howard Copp, superintendent of recreation in wilmette as the editor. We affiliated with a national organization, the American Recreation Society, in 1948, and members paid joint dues. (Seems like we keep resurrecting old ideas.)

As we progress into the 1950s, the conference was still the highlight of the year for the members (just like the 1990s, huh), but they had branched into new areas of concern: youth, day camps, and sports and athletics for women. The original constitution was revised in 1951. (A pattern was established because, if you track it, IPRA's bylaws have been revised about every five years since then.) In the mid '50s, the state was divided into regions: Metropolitan, North, Central and Southern. (So, this is where the upstate vs. downstate began.) These regions still exist today for IPRA. More formal committees were established to deal with legislation, publications, membership, girls/women's issues, awards, and research. Certification had its beginning in 1955 when the IRA commissioned Al Sapora and Russel Foval to study the topic.

In 1958 two big events happened. The Hospital Section was formed and reported 70 members, and the IRA received an invitation from the Illinois Association of Park Districts to hold a joint meeting in 1960 in Joliet. (Guess it was successful since we are still doing it today.) In 1959, the total IRA member-ship was 308. (I wonder what the members thought about the dues back then.)

By the mid '60s, (just about the time I entered the picture as a student member), the association had major growing pains. In 1964 the word "parks" was added to the name and we became the Illinois Park and Recreation Society (IPRS). Dues increased to $15 for administrators, $10 for supervisors, and $5 for recreation leaders. I, however, paid $ 1 as a student member and still remember complaining about it to my professor. A part-time executive director was employed and the IPRS office was located in Cicero, where it remained until 1970.

In 1965 the society's official publication was titled, the Illinois Park and Recreation Quarterly. There were 30 standing committees. (And we think we have too many now.) A joint conference with IAPD was held in St. Louis in 1966, and what a great tradition that Started. By the end of that decade, IPRS had income of about $10,000, and a membership of 612. Another hallmark year was 1969 with the establishment of the Illinois Therapeutic Recreation Branch.

In 1970, a joint committee of IPRS and IAPD proposed a resolution to both boards that each organization retain its separate identity, yet join together for particular efforts, such as publication of the Illinois Parks and Recreation magazine, and sponsorship of a conference. This was the first of many formal actions that are laced throughout the history of both IPRA and IAPD. The executive director of IPRS became the editor of the new joint magazine, Illinois Parks and Recreation, the IPRS office was moved to Springfield to be housed with IAPD.

The '70s began with IPRS endorsing recommended salaries of $10,000 for directors of parks and recreation, and $9,000 for supervisors with a degree and experience. They also recommended four weeks vacation after eight years of services. (Look at how far we have come). As we moved through the 1970s the picture becomes much clearer. Since January 1973, Kay Kastel (yours truly before marriage) was hired as the full-time executive secretary and editor of the magazine. We had 1,300 members, a budget of $27,000, and there was record attendance at the joint annual conference held in Arlington Heights. (My salary was about half the budget. I wish I could say that now.) The IPRS office was moved to Des Plaincs and shared space with NRPA The first joint agreement between IPRS and IAPD was implemented in 1974. This was the first time that IPRA received an equal share of the conference profit. Issues at this time were certification based on education, experience and involvement (isn't that being discussed now?), a state job bulletin, and legislative efforts in cooperation with IAPD. The agency mailing got its start in 1974 when key agencies were mailed the IPRS board minutes.

The highlight of the '70s happened in 1976 when a group of the best minds in Illinois gathered in Joliet for three days to plan for the future of IPRS. Implementing their recommendations, we officially

IPRS and IAPD leaders meet in the mid-'70s to discuss joint issues.


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became the Illinois Park and Recreation Association (or IPRA) complete with six special interest sections. (We've only added one since then.) Professional membership requirements were established, the executive secretary's title was changed to director, and one full-time secretary was added to the staff.
The 1980s were the years of growth: growth in membership, growth in staff, and growth in service. IPRA took on several major special events to increase public awareness. This included a "Run to Springfield" to open the Illinois State Fair. IPRA was given a booth at the fair in the conservation area which we staffed with interns for three days. It was our job to provide games for fairgoers. (We are still involved at the fair in the '90s with the jointly sponsored Park District Conservation Day.) Attendance at the joint conference continued to increase and the only sites large enough for this annual event were in the Chicago metro area. Membership dues were looked at several times during this decade. The board felt that in order to keep pace with all the changes in the profession, and provide increased services, that IPRA needed a stable dues structure. Thus we implemented a dues structure based on salaries. The thought was that as salaries in the profession increased, so also would IPRA's revenue.


By the beginning of the 1990s the membership of IPRA had grown to 1,700, and the budget increased tenfold. Over the years we had built a healthy reserve fund so the board decided to invest for the future by purchasing office space. We had moved from Des Plaines to Palatine (several moves in this community), and now it was time to own something of our own. We purchased our Winfield office in 1991 and by 1996 the IPRA mortgage was paid off and the Winfield office is truly ours. During the '90s IPRA continues to prosper. The staff of six full-time and three part-time employees currently service more than 2,100 members. We have added services and quality and strive for 100 percent customer satisfaction.

IPRA has become the top state park and recreation association for professionals in the country. (Of course, I'm biased.) It only happened because our forefathers looked into the future and planned for it. They would be proud of us now. I wonder if they had as much fun looking forward as I did looking back.

Did IPRA have its beginning in 1935, 1944, 1964 or 1976? Now you see why it's hard to answer the question. How old is IPRA?

is the executive director of the Illinois Park and Recreation Association. Photo: IPRAs 1981learn travels to the Illinois State fair to promote parks and recreation.

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