Charles H. Odegaard
Cornelius Amory Pugsley State Medal Award, 1983
Charles H. Odegaard (1928 - 2007) received the Pugsley Medal in 1983. He served as a park and recreation administrator at local, state, and national levels of government and at a national nonprofit organization. He had extensive experience in agency planning, analysis, coordination, cooperative programs, and international relations. His infectious smile, effervescent personality, self confidence, and contagious enthusiasm for the field endeared him to all those who interacted with him.
Odegaard's parents believed in hard work, education, and kindness. His parents stressed to Charles and his brother, Dick, that they should do the right thing, encourage others to do the right thing, and always follow the Golden Rule. Charles' grandfather taught school in a one-room schoolhouse in Norway for 50 years and received a medal from the King for exceptional service.
As a boy in Beloit, Wisconsin, he lived a block away from a park. Maybe that pointed him toward his career. He participated in a full range of sports in high school and also in drama, music and a writing club -- all of which constituted elements of public recreation. Indeed, at the age of 14 he was paid for taking care of a ball field and umpiring. Thus, it was natural for him to consider a career in that field. He wanted a career that would involve helping others, so he also considered entering the ministry or becoming a defense lawyer, but ultimately recreation was selected.
Odegaard began his more than 50 years of service in the parks field as a seasonal playground worker in Beloit, after serving in World War II. He held the position while attending the University of Wisconsin in La Crosse from which he graduated with a BS degree. He later earned a master's degree in urban planning from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. As he rose to become a senior administrator in the parks field, Odegaard continued his professional education by participating in training seminars, including those organized by the Brookings Institution in Washington D C and the Federal Executive Institute. Throughout his career, he stressed the importance of continuing education to those who worked under his direction and practiced what he preached.
Career titles often are useful in defining a person's life work and Odegaard's record indicates that he exercised a leadership role in multiple areas of the field. In 1952, immediately following his college graduation, he was hired as parks and recreation director in Marinette, Wisconsin. He became county recreation agent in Waukesha, Wisconsin, and in 1956 initiated a successful experimental agricultural extension program. At that time, Waukesha was the fastest growing county in Wisconsin but was comprised of multiple small communities with populations of between 2000 and 5000. As county recreation agent, Odegaard's "sole duty shall be to coordinate recreation in Waukesha County and to provide leadership training." It was a classic extension position acting as a consultant and coordinator, training leaders, and helping people to help themselves.
At that time in Wisconsin, recreation and parks had separate professional associations. Odegaard and others believed they should be merged and that the best way to do this was for one individual to become president of both groups at the same time. Odegaard achieved this and facilitated the process of merging them. In 1958 he moved to Seattle when the National Recreation Association (NRA) hired him as regional director for the Pacific Northwest, which embraced Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Western Canada.
Oddegard was appointed by Governor Albert Rosellini as director of the Washington State Park and Recreation Commission in November, 1963, at the age of 35. In his NRA position he had volunteered to assist in finding a new state parks director, but finished up in the position himself. He had not sought the job, but was flattered when it was offered. With a growing young family, he welcomed the opportunity to reduce the amount of travel which was associated with the big geographical region of the NPA.
At that time, the commission had had four directors in four years and was a fractious political body. For the next 16 years under both Democratic and Republican governors, Odegaard believed that he had the best job in the country. Odegaard quickly proved himself as a skillful administrator demonstrating particular ability in managing personnel, using the press and interacting with politicians. Early in his career he knew he needed to master the art of working with the media. It served him well. He welcomed and thrived on the opportunity to evangelize about the virtues of the parks and recreation field on public stages, and gave scores of such speeches each year throughout his career. His mantra was, "Nothing happens without public support and understanding." He was a consummate politician, who was always conscious of cause and effect i.e. if a policy or procedure was implemented what future contingencies could arise from it and what contingency plans were made to address them.
With Governor Rosellini's support, Odegaard increased acquisitions and facilities, especially on Puget Sound and the Pacific Coast. Rosellini abandoned the previous tradition of appointing patronage candidates to head the state park system and allowed Odegaard to make decisions on professional grounds. He remained in his position after Republican Daniel Evans replace Rosellini as governor in 1965. His endearing personality and astute insights into the working of the political system ensured that state parks was well-funded even during downturns in the state's economy. During his tenure, the department's budget grew from $6 million to $40 million, and 18,600 acres of new parkland were added to the system.
In 1972 Washington State Parks won the inaugural National Gold Medal Award, sponsored by NRPA, recognizing the system as the best state organization in the field. Under his leadership the state park system initiated programs in historic preservation; scenic and recreational highways; snowmobile parking and trails; outdoor learning centers, of which ten were developed during his tenure; access to ocean beaches for all citizens, which involved multiple court cases; a park classification system; and a system for tracking the operating impacts of capital developments. A particularly contentious issue was Odegaard's campaign to move responsibility for the ocean beaches in Washington away from an agency charged with generating revenue from them for the state's school system by facilitating such activities as mining and logging, to state parks where the mission would be to preserve them for the leisure use of future generations. This was a protracted battle that was debated at length on the front pages of Washington newspapers, but Odegaard eventually prevailed. When he left state parks in 1979, the Seattle Times, reported: "He has been a professional in a post demanding professionalism. Our state parks long will carry the impact of his 16 years as director."
After leaving state parks, there was speculation in the press that he would run for state-wide office either as governor or land commissioner. A group of environmentalists formed a committee to develop statewide support for his candidacy for governor, but in 1979 Odegaard had accepted an invitation from the Secretary of Interior in the Carter Administration, Cecil Andus, to join the National Park Service as deputy regional director based in Seattle and he elected to stay in that position rather than enter politics. His was an unusual appointment in that most NPS regional leadership positions are filled by people who have come through the NPS ranks, and it reflects the high regard for Odegaard�s talents and for his political skills among leaders in the region.
At that time, the region encompassed Alaska, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. In 1983, Russell Dickenson, director of the National Park Service, asked him to move to Omaha, Nebraska, to be the director of the Midwest Region which was comprised of ten (10) states reaching north to the Canadian border, south to the Missouri River, east to Ohio and Illinois, and west to the borders of Wyoming. It was an exciting time as he strengthened the political ties of the local, state and national governmental entities with the National Park Service. His advance work and the meetings he held in state and local jurisdictions with US Senators and Congressmen contributed to their support for National Park Service programs, especially those in the Midwest region. Odegaard closed his career by serving as special assistant to the director of the National Park Service until his retirement from NPS in 1997. In this role he was charged with responsibility for expanding the roles of tourism, environmental education and urban opportunities in the NPS.
While he was employed at the state and national level, he taught management classes at the University of Washington in Seattle from 1974 to 1981. He also taught park management at Oregon State University, the NPS Albright Training Institute in Arizona, and in New South Wales, Australia. After writing many articles and reports during his career, he was approached by Grant W. Sharpe, professor in the College of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, to co-author a book titled, Park Management. The book was published by John Wiley and Sons in 1983. In 1994, the second edition was published by Sagamore Publishing. It was especially noteworthy for the insights it offered on how to interact effectively with elected officials. The book was used by teachers and professionals in the park and recreation field. In addition Odegaard published articles in The American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration newsletter, Recreation and Parks, Canadian Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, Trends and Way. He was a contributing author to the book Guide to New Approaches to Financing Parks and Recreation.
There were several factors that contributed to Odegaard's success. His personality and smile were infectious; they lit up a room. He had a strong sense of "presence" which commanded people's attention. He was generous in his praise of those around him. Integrity was a strength and he took pride in following through on anything he promised. He was not afraid to be outspoken. He listened to people's views and weighted them, trying to keep an open mind until all sides of an issue had been articulated before making a decision. Extensive efforts were always made to keep all those involved in an issue informed about it, so political figures were never surprised by decisions or outcomes. Finally, if he "lost" an issue, he always supported the outcome and those who had advocated it, rationalizing that sometimes people were wiser that he was.
Odegaard's leadership role extended to the field's professional organizations. He served as president of eight professional organizations including the Natural Society for Park Resources, National Association of State Park Directors, American Youth Hostel Association, and the Academy of Park and Recreation Administration of which he was a charter member. He was a member of the NRPA Board of Trustees between 1972 and 1979 and was influential in helping the multiple elements of that organization to coalesce into a coherent entity after they had come together to form it a few years earlier.
In the Northwest, Odegaard was a member of the Federal Executive Board in Seattle from 1987 to 1995 and was its chairman in 1991. He facilitated a US/German youth exchange under the direction of Secretary of Interior Bill Rogers, and conducted major studies for Vancouver, B.C., Seattle, the Alaskan Air Command, and Larson AFB in Montana. After his retirement from NPS, he continued to offer advice and suggestions for improving park and recreation services to various groups. He served on the Seattle Police West Precinct Citizens Advisory Council, Downtown Seattle Rotary Club Board and the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center Board.