Joseph J. "Joe" Bannon (1931- ) received the Pugsley Medal in 2001. His many contributions to the field were made while he occupied four different roles during the course of his career: professional; educator; consultant; and book publisher.
He was born in Glens Falls, New York, and in his youth acquired a strong work ethic from his parents. This work ethic, together with a love of physical activity, were manifested when Bannon worked as a caddy at the Glens Falls Country Club starting at the age of 13, his first job in the recreation field. He caddied all day long, walking 36 holes and carrying two bags for $3.50 plus tips. Later he became a member of the club and a lifelong enthusiast. In addition to golf, he also played baseball and basketball as a teenager.
Following high school, Bannon took his first full-time job as a stock boy for the Imperial Paper and Color Corporation. In 1953 he married, four months after he completed basic training in the U.S. Army, and he spent 18 months in Okinawa. During his Army service, Bannon took advantage of college courses offered through university extension programs. This aroused his interest in advanced education and influenced his next career move.
He moved to Ithaca, New York, in 1953 and graduated with a bachelor's degree in physical education from Ithaca College. At that time, Ithaca College provided almost 75 percent of the physical education teachers for the State of New York. While there he was student manager of the Ithaca football team and he worked year-round, part-time, as a youth bureau counselor at recreation centers in low-income areas of Ithaca. This experience alerted him to the importance and impact of recreation in the lives of young people. Bannon graduated cum laude from Ithaca College in 1957 after completing his student teaching requirement as a seventh and eighth grade physical education teacher and basketball coach in Lansingburg, New York: "This was a valuable experience," Bannon later recalled, "because I found out I didn't want to teach physical education or to be a seventh grade basketball coach." After consulting with Dr. Bigley, a recreation professor at Ithaca, Bannon concluded that he would leave teaching to pursue graduate work in the field of recreation. He knew little about the field but Bigley encouraged him to apply for a graduate assistantship to facilitate this at the University of Illinois, and contacted a good friend of his Charles K. Brightbill.
His graduate assistantship was with Harold E. "Hek" Kenney, one of the founders of the American physical education movement, and his responsibility was to teach physical education to college undergraduates. Bannon was intrigued by Charles K. Brightbill's course, Recreation and Park Administration, which was taught through case studies. Subsequentially Bannon noted "Charles Brightbill was a mentor. Much of the empirical work reported in the journals today owes much to the philosophical ideas he introduced." Brightbill aroused Bannon's interest in the problem-solving and management issues confronting park and recreation practitioners. Later, he authored a text which was widely adopted by parks and recreation curricula across the U.S., entitled Problem Solving in Recreation and Parks.
Another strong influence at Illinois was Dr. Allen V. Sapora, who became a mentor to the young Bannon, and he wrote both his master's thesis and doctoral dissertation under Sapora's guidance. The two became lifelong colleagues and friends. Sapora was a pioneer in the field of parks and recreation education and regularly discussed ideas and issues with Bannon, who gained much from the relationship. He learned much of professional value from Sapora, but he also absorbed Sapora's personal philosophy of never forgetting your roots and appreciating those people who inspired and assisted in bringing aspirations to fruition and creating opportunities. It was a foundation that Bannon carried with him throughout his life and was reflected in a quote he carried in his wallet:
"There is no such thing as a 'self-made' man. We are made up of thousands of others. Everyone who has done a kind deed for us, or spoken one word of encouragement to us has entered into the makeup of our character and of our thoughts, as well as our success."Bannon's first job after completing his master's degree in 1958 was superintendent of recreation in Leonia, New Jersey. At that time, George Butler, director of research for the National Recreation Association and author of one of the most important early texts in the field, Introduction to Community Recreation, was president of the Leonia Board of Recreation Commissioners. Bannon later recalled, "With George Butler as chair of my board, every board meeting was like going to school. Butler was the first person to use surveys and to use research to drive policy. I learned a great deal from him." In his five years there, Bannon adopted a basic managerial principle that guided his subsequent career: "If you tell someone you are going to do something, then you had better darn well do it; and if you can't or don't do it, be able to give a reason why, and don't wait until the last minute."
From Leonia, Bannon moved to become general superintendent of the Topeka, Kansas, Recreation Commission in 1966. This was a much larger community with a population of 120,000. One of the best examples of his work in Topeka was reflected in his management of the crisis that arose on June 6, 1966, when one of the worst tornadoes recorded in the U.S. created a swath of destruction through the center of Topeka. Bannon immediately opened all of the community recreation centers 24 hours a day and established a tent recreation program at the airport.
In 1966, Allen Sapora asked Bannon to return to the University of Illinois to direct the Office of Recreation and Park Resources (ORPR) which was the outreach arm of the department. Sapora had persuaded the College of Agriculture to establish a jointly funded extension unit comprised of parks and recreation faculty whose mission was to assist communities across the state. During Bannon's tenure as director of ORPR, he assisted more than 75 Illinois communities in establishing park districts, conducting needs assessments, and in preparing long-range plans.
When Sapora was appointed dean of the College of Applied Life Sciences in 1973, Bannon was named professor and head of the department of Leisure Studies. He remained in this leadership position until his retirement from academic life in 1992. While department head, Bannon consolidated and enhanced the department's reputation as one of the strongest Ph.D.-granting departments in the field.
During his tenure at Illinois he authored or co-authored nine books on the subject of management which was his specialty. His initiative and drive led him to co-found the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (JPRA) in 1984 and this became established as one of the field's three major journals. During the 1980s and 1990s there was a movement away from the park and recreation administration option in university departments, and the existence of JPRA was crucial to the retention of that option at many institutions since it provided a scholarly outlet for research work in this area of the field.
In 1974, Bannon founded a consulting company, Management Learning Laboratories. The company completed master plans, feasible studies, and market studies for many park and recreation agencies across the country. In addition, it arranged seminar and workshop programs both in the U.S. and abroad.
The final phase of Bannon's career was as a publisher. He is the founder and CEO of two publishing companies based in Urbana, Illinois: Sports Publishing, Inc. and Sagamore Publishing. Sports Publishing, Inc. focuses primarily on sports books for the popular market and offers biographies of famous sports figures. Sagamore Publishing has published over 100 books on park and recreation topics. Sagamore was founded in 1983 at a time when the major national publishing houses were withdrawing from the parks and recreation field because they considered it too small to be profitable. Sagamore stepped into this void and has been an important resource in providing texts for college curricula and disseminating information to professionals in the field.
Bannon received many national, regional, and state awards during his career recognizing the effectiveness and impact of his contributions. He held leadership positions in three professional state associations: Kansas, New Jersey and Illinois and was a president of both the Society of Park and Recreation Educators and the Academy of Park and Recreation Administration, and a board member of NRPA.
Bannon recognized that success in any endeavor requires energy and motivation, and that these derive in part from a commitment to physical fitness. Hence he took up long-distance running at the age of 50, and subsequently completed 11 marathons and over 200 5k and 10k runs. Bannon's quick and engaging conversational style; his ability to reason and develop creative solutions to problems; his self-confidence and enthusiasm for moving an organization forward; and his warmth and concern for people have been key elements in his success. His commitment to contributing to the leisure profession has been manifested in his multiple roles. In all of these he has emerged as a leader and he has consistently been in the forefront of the parks and recreation field at the national level. He has been a forceful advocate for the field in numerous forums and has earned widespread respect among his peers.
Susan Moser and Bill McKinney contributed to the development of this profile.
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