(The following information on Ira Hutchinson was provided by Bessie Sherman, Director of Mintority University Outreach Office, Workforce Management, Washington,DC. It has been slighly edited.)
Former Deputy Director of the National Park Service, Ira J. Hutchison
, died February 12, 2011, in Silver Spring, MD.
During a 55-year career in parks and recreation, Mr. Hutchison served in the National Park Service from 1972 to 1983 and was the first African-American deputy director of the National Park Service.
Mr. Hutchison was born in Topeka, Kansas, and after high school there served in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946. He was a multi-sport athlete in high school and wanted to be a coach. He was graduated from Kansas State University in 1950. There were few coaching positions for African-Americans in that time, a hard fact that turned him to parks and recreation.
Mr. Hutchison learned of a pioneering program at the Topeka State Hospital
which used recreation activities as therapy for mentally ill patients. He started as a psychiatric aide at the hospital and learned the context of work with the mentally ill. He spent 13 years at the hospital and moved to athletic instructor, later to recreational therapist and in 1954 became the hospital's recreation director
He spent much of the 1960s in New York City. He earned a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation at Columbia Teachers College
in New York City. As part of the master’s program he organized the city’s first specialized recreation program for narcotic addicts at the Westside Rehabilitation Center. He said this was the most emotionally demanding group he ever worked with. He became recreation director at St. Vincent's Hospital
in New York in 1965.
Mr. Hutchison’s years in New York led to the National Park Service where, in 1972, he was named chief of community programs for the National Capital Parks region. In 1974 he was appointed superintendent of National Capital Parks - East where he was responsible for 150 to 300 professional and support employees. His tenure coincided with the nation's Bicentennial celebration and Mr. Hutchison was responsible for coordinating many of the events and projects associated with that celebration in the Washington D.C.area.
Mr. Hutchison gave special emphasis to NPS sites in his jurisdiction that were in minority neighborhoods and had traditionally received fewer resources than other NPS sites. The result was major restoration and renovation of these facilities and marked upgrades in the quality of services offered at these sites.
After a short period as superintendent of Gateway National Recreation Area in New York City, Hutchison returned to Washington D.C. to become the first African-American deputy director of the NPS in 1977. In this role, he worked closely with the NPS director and other senior managers in planning, developing, administering, protecting, and interpreting the NPS to the public. In effect, he was primarily responsible for the internal day-to-day management of the agency. His focus on the contributions of recreation to human physical and mental development offered a different and complementary perspective to the traditional natural resources management focus of the NPS.
In 1983 he moved from the NPS to the Office of the Secretary of Interior with a mandate to create greater opportunities for minorities and women.
This was Interior's programmatic response to President Reagan's executive order to federal departments to increase the involvement of historically black colleges and universities in the work of agencies. Mr. Hutchison started a cooperative education program involving 15 predominantly African-American colleges and universities. This program provided training and employment for African-American youth prior to graduation and career opportunities for them after graduation. During his tenure, a program was initiated to provide accelerated management training and follow-up career opportunities for women and minorities. Those completing this training moved immediately into management positions in the NPS.
As a pioneer in the therapeutic recreation
field, Mr. Hutchison sought out his peers around the country and he found the National Association of Recreational Therapists. Over time, he rose to leadership positions in this professional association that, in 1966 merged with other recreation groups to form the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA). In the same year he was elected president of the Therapeutic Branch of NRPA. Halfway through his presidential year the executive director of NRPA invited him to join the executive staff of the new organization as director of its therapeutic programs. His long and proven track record brought the credibility and respect NRPA sought to encourage others to join the organization. Subsequently, Mr. Hutchison moved to other executive positions in NRPA, including directing its first urban affairs thrust.