A leader in the field of parks and recreation for more than 50 years, Charles Jordan has seen the industry grow and evolve, due in large part to his initiative and commitment to the communities he has served. Though he has also held positions in California and Texas, Jordan spent the majority of his career in Portland, Oregon, where he served 10 years as the city’s first African-American city commissioner and an additional 14 years as director of parks and recreation. Last month, the city celebrated his legacy by renaming a local community center in his honor.
Jordan’s career in the field of parks and recreation began in 1961, when he was hired as a recreation leader in Palm Springs, California. After several upwardly mobile years, Jordan moved to Portland in 1970 to work on the federal Model Cities Program. Then came his appointment to the city council, where won re-election three times. Jordan then went to Austin, Texas, to work as director of parks and recreation.
During Jordan’s five years in Austin, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors, created to review public and private outdoor recreation opportunities, policies, and programs, and to make recommendations for the future. Fellow commission member and Conservation Fund Chairman Emeritus Patrick Noonan attests, “His leadership on that commission was instrumental in sparking a rich legacy of conservation and recreation initiatives from which our entire country continues to benefit.”
Noonan isn’t the only distinguished figure to recognize Jordan’s legacy. Portland Parks Commissioner Nick Fish sees the impact Jordan has had on the city, noting, “There will never be someone in the Parks family more deserving of this honor. Charles Jordan is a champion who has connected generations of children and families to their parks. One of his most memorable sayings is, ‘We’re more than fun and games’--reminding us all of the importance that recreation programs play in building good citizens and thriving communities.” Current Portland Parks and Recreation Director Mike Abbaté adds, “I draw great inspiration from this amazing man and am humbled to follow in his footsteps.”
Jordan moved back to Portland in 1989 to serve as director of parks and recreation, where he was instrumental in turning the city into a model for smart land-use planning and conservation in action. Beyond promoting parks as simply places where people can relax and play, he made it clear to other city officials how critical they were to the creation of a happy, healthy community. During his tenure, which ended with his retirement in 2003, the agency’s expenditures increased from $19.9 million to $56.2 million, its staff grew from 278 to 366 employees, its volunteer corps skyrocketed from the equivalent of 67 full-time volunteers to 204, and the city’s parks system increased by 44 parks and natural areas, plus more than 1,700 acres. Jordan also continued his nationwide service as a member or chairman of a number of national committees, boards, and associations relating to parks and conservation, including NRPA. He also serves as director emeritus of The Conservation Fund.Closer to his home, though, the recent rededication of the Charles Jordan Community Center holds special significance, as it was his initiative that spurred voters to revitalize the rundown Portland building, originally built in the 1940s as a bunkhouse for shipyard workers. Today, the facility is one of the most-visited community centers in Portland, a tribute to the man who dedicated his life to the promotion of parks and conservation for the good of all people.