Seventy years ago, I started teaching at Christian College - now Columbia College - as a part-time swimming teacher. Soon I taught full time, including a class for prospective recreation professionals called Recreational Leadership. Our textbook was "Philosophy of Recreation" by J.B. Nash. Nash advocated planned, supervised recreation - hobbies, music, dance, art, drama, games and more - as important in shaping young lives in positive ways. I was happy to have a few local students in my class.
Because I was active on several teams and clubs, I got a job as a summer playground leader at Eugene Field Elementary in 1935, the first time Columbia tried a summer program. The money to pay two leaders at each of four schools came from the water and light budget; we got $50 per month working from noon to dark on weekdays.
Instead of fun for fun’s sake, Nash’s textbook taught that organized games enrich lives by introducing team play, fairness, good health and other positive attributes into the lives of the players.
He said, "The excitement of accomplishments on the playing field, in the water, at a craft table, on stage or in competitive athletics far outranks the excitement of shooting fireworks out of season, painting obscene words on public buildings or dumping garbage cans in alleys at night."
The students and I charted the needs and interests of people of all ages and worked out positive ways to fulfill those needs and interests. I also assigned a tough out-of-class project: Each student was to make a ship and install it in a glass bottle.
It sounded like fun. I provided bottles of several shapes and invited them to come to my office for suggestions, but no instructions were included.
The students soon discovered the necessity of planning, designing and measuring the ship, and they learned the true meaning of the term "bottleneck." They had to stay calm in the face of adversity and improvise tools. Patience was the only thing that would dry glue inside the bottle.
Each stage in the construction required problem-solving and the ability to maintain emotional balance.
Some students cried! Some asked me to help with difficult tasks, but most were determined to do the project on their own.
I survived that project and recall having 27 ships in bottles on my desk at the end of the semester. I dropped one on a tile floor and broke it after it was turned in. I hurriedly got another bottle and installed the ship; it took several days and a fair amount of frustration to replace it before I told the student what happened.
Working with people, like making a ship in a bottle, often poses seemingly impossible problems. It tries the leader’s patience and, there, too, we find no instructions included. Suddenly the "ship" falls into its proper place, the threads are pulled and a cork closes the bottle. People problems are solved daily, and leaders close the incidents.
When strangers see the bottle and say, "I know. You bought the ship and blew the bottle around it," you smile, overwhelmed with pride.
There’s a lot of practical psychology involved in recreational work, and a few of my students have been important in the development of Columbia’s outstanding Parks and Recreation Department. As Columbia grows by leaps and bounds, the need for organized activities has spiraled upward. The dedicated crew has kept pace.
Nash could not have envisioned the tremendous opportunities that Columbia’s Parks and Recreation Department makes available to the thousands of us who enjoy wholesome, healthful use of our leisure hours.