This week is special with Friday, August 14 marking the official anniversary date for NRPA's 50th! Leading up to Friday, we will be taking a look back at some of the professionals who helped shape NRPA and move the organization forward. Our third interview is with Robert Toalson, NRPA's 24th president.
Robert F. Toalson’s journey to the field of parks and rec began with service in the military, where he was a platoon leader and an executive officer for a Marine Detachment Afloat from 1954 to 1957. Soon after, he completed his master’s degree in park and recreation administration from Indiana University in 1958. After that, Toalson served as president for a string of park and recreation organizations: The American Park and Recreation Society, NRPA (1991), The Illinois Park and Recreation Association and the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration. Below, read an excerpt of Toalson’s thoughts on the park and recreation industry, as well as his career. For the full interview, check out Parks & Recreation magazine.
Parks & Recreation magazine: Tell us about one of the most memorable moments of your career related to NRPA?
Robert Toalson: My service on the board of trustees where I had the opportunity to work with top professionals and citizens. I’d also have to include serving as president of NRPA, my internship in Philadelphia with Bob Crawford, and, finally, serving as the chairman of the professional effort to raise funds for the new headquarters
P&R: What do you feel is the most impactful change that’s taken place in the parks and recreation field during the past 50 years?
Toalson: I think the funding of parks and recreation programs has certainly improved; however, they’re still low on the totem pole. If a community has to cut back on expenses, it’s usually in the parks and recreation area. But, I think it has improved considerably because people have come to recognize that a good parks and recreation program is important in the community.
P&R: What would you like to see from NRPA in the next 50 years?
Toalson: I’d like to see the association do more programs for professionals that would help them in their work, and I would like to see the national internship program instituted again. I thought it was an excellent program. It started out with Bob Crawford in Philadelphia, and NRPA approved the people to spend one year with him and then they’d go out on their own. My internship was in Philadelphia. I worked in every department in the program and had Crawford behind me. He helped me get a job and supported me. It doesn’t cost NRPA anything, as the community paid the salary, usually a beginning salary, to the interns for a year. We set up internships in Oak Park and Champaign, and I considered it a badge of honor that the programs were sponsored by NRPA. The interns did some shadowing, but for the most part, they worked in the departments over the year’s period. They spent time in the forestry and recreation program departments, and were responsible for some programs. An example, from my internship in Philadelphia, was my being put in charge of handling ticket sales for a baseball game between the Washington Senators and the Philadelphia Phillies.
Sonia Myrick is NRPA's Managing Editor of Parks & Recreation magazine.