Dedicated park and recreation professional passes away on January 16, 2020, at age of 98
“I believe that recreation and saving the environment have everything to do with people’s leisure time and make an enormous difference.” These words from Harry “Hal” G. Haskell Jr. illustrate his passion for and commitment to the field of parks and recreation. A former U.S. Congressman and mayor of Wilmington, Delaware, Haskell also served more than 20 years on the NRPA Board of Trustees, including as board chair from 1980 to 1985, and was inducted as an NRPA life trustee in 1993. These career achievements are among the numerous contributions Haskell has made throughout his life to his community and his country.
From 1952 to 1984, Haskell was selected as a delegate to the Republican National Convention every four years, excluding 1957 to 1959, during which he served as Delaware’s sole Congressman. During the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Haskell served in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, leading the agency’s Interdepartmental Council and working with the heads of Public Health Services, Social Security, Education and the Food and Drug Administration to address issues, such as creating vocational rehabilitation programs and revising Social Security. During his tenure as Congressman, Haskell’s notable achievements include the enactment of the United States’ student loan program, the enactment of the National Defense Education Act and the establishment of an air traffic control system.
In 1968, he was elected mayor of Wilmington as a Republican in a predominately Democrat-controlled city during a period of distress following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “It was right after the race riots in the ’60s, and he was very instrumental in removing the National Guard from the city after the riots took place,” says Joseph O’Neill, former NRPA board member and colleague of Haskell. “He made a special effort with the parks and recreation department and the recreation programs in the city to help bring some reconciliation to the people. Also, the city didn’t have much money at that time, so he led an effort for the historical city parks to be merged to the county parks. The county was better funded at the time and better able to take care of these wonderful parks.” He proceeded to serve one term from 1969 to 1972 and was the last Republican to be elected mayor of Wilmington to date.
Other notable achievements of Haskell’s life and career include the founding of an Episcopal youth camp in Delaware; consultant to Nelson Rockefeller, President Eisenhower’s special assistant for Foreign Affairs; leadership of efforts to protect Brandywine Creek from environmental abuse and degradation; establishment of the Delaware Futures program to help at-risk youth develop skills to expand opportunities and achieve a college education; the creation of Action Task Forces in Wilmington neighborhoods to learn from citizens about the types of city programs and services they wanted; the founding of Dynamy, a nonprofit experiential educational organization to support young people to discover their life purpose through Outward Bound and internships; implementation of the Life. Be in it! program in the United States; recipient of honorary degrees from Fisk University and Hobart College.
Haskell once stated that “involvement in recreation and leisure are essential to personal, mental and physical health, yielding a full and rewarding life.” Throughout his life and career, he was dedicated to this belief and demonstrated such through his many contributions to the field of parks and recreation and beyond.
Lindsay Collins is the Associate Editor for Parks & Recreation magazine.