The first meeting of those interested in organized recreation activities was held in Casper on May 10-12, 1951. It was called the “Conference on Recreation”, and was sponsored by the University of Wyoming, the National Recreation Association, Casper Community Recreation, Casper Public Schools, the Red Cross, and the Girl Scouts. Total attendance at the conference was 34 people, and the conference provided programming workshops, discussion of the new 1951 recreation enabling legislation, and exchange of information among leaders of various communities.
In 1952, regional meetings were held in Douglas, Thermopolis, and Rock Springs. They were organized and sponsored by the University of Wyoming, National Recreation Association and Casper Community Recreation. A hiatus followed, but in 1956, the Wyoming Recreation Association was formed in Laramie at a conference held on April 27-28, 1956. Laramie, Casper, Cheyenne, Rock Springs, Cody, Sheridan, Riverton, and Superior were the communities that were represented at the conference. Resource persons included Harold Lathrop, National Recreation Association; Stewart Case, Colorado State University; Randall Watkins, University of Wyoming. Conference organizers were James Hartley, University of Wyoming and Ken Kurtz, Casper Community Recreation.
In those early days, with year-round departments in Casper, Laramie, and Lander only, it was not possible to interest enough professionals to form an active, viable Board of Directors. The President did all of the work of correspondence, as well as, the organization and actual conduct of the conferences.
Recreation programs continued to grow slowly in Wyoming, but with Rich Adams of Laramie providing the spark, a meeting was called in Laramie to reorganize. On February 5, 1965, Rich Adams, Jay Devereaux of Laramie, Dick Doughty of Lander and Kenneth Kurtz of Casper met to plan a renewed organization. The Wyoming Recreation and Parks Association resulted. At that meeting, which was conducted at the Fort Sanders Community Center, the membership of the newly organized WRPA adopted a Constitution and By-Laws. The officers of the Association were President, 1st Vice President, 2nd Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer. Officers were elected for one-year terms. The Executive Board consisted of the officers, the immediate Past President and the Chairpersons of all standing committees. It was the duty of the Executive Board to carry out the instructions of the Association and to take official action between meetings of the Association. The standing committees included Conference, Legislative, Membership, Study and Research, and Publications. Officers took office July 1, 1965 following the election. It was noted in the minutes from the February 5, 1965 meeting that membership had grown to 41 active members and eight active organizations. It was also noted that the organization had helped in presenting the first Governor’s Conference on Recreation in the state of Wyoming and had been accepted by the newly formed National Recreation and Park Association as an affiliate member.
In 1971, the By-Laws were amended. The Board of Directors changed to six members elected for three-year terms. The officers of the Association were President, Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer. The President was elected by the Association from among those on the Board of Directors and had to have been a member of the Board for at least one year. The Vice President and Secretary/Treasurer were appointed by the President from among Board members. If need be, the Secretary/Treasurer could be appointed from the general membership, in order to obtain the most competent person. The President appointed the Committee Chairpersons. A member of the Board of Directors could not succeed himself/herself and had to be out of office for at least one year before running for the Board again.
After many years of work in promoting and building the field of parks and recreation throughout Wyoming, and working to establish an organized group, the Wyoming Recreation and Parks Association became incorporated on February 13 1974. By 1977, 18 cities and towns in Wyoming had Recreation Departments.
Also in 1974, the governing body of the WRPA was changed to a nine member Board of Directors. An amendment in 1977 made it possible for a Board member to be elected to two successive terms. In 1980, the officers of the Association would take office immediately following the Annual Business Meeting in the year which elected. In 1982, the Board of Directors could appoint a University of Wyoming recreation and park administration student to serve as an ex-officio member of the Board.
In March 1983, Mike Bemis, WRPA President, appointed a committee to review and redefine the By-Laws and develop a Board handbook. Appointed to the committee were Dennis Griess, Chairman; John Keck, Molly McNamee, and Janet Jahn. The committee developed a set of By-Laws and a Manual of Procedures which, along with the Article of Incorporation, became the governing documents of the Association. The Executive Board is empowered to conduct the management, business and internal affairs of the corporation.
Throughout the years, Wyoming Recreation and Parks Association has grown to 139 members (2008-09), and has seen many people serve as Committee Chairpersons, Section Chairpersons, and on the Board of Directors. There have been changes over the years as to the terms of office for Board Members and Officer positions. For many years, Officer positions were one-year terms. At the State Conference in 1974, the term of office for the WRPA President was changed to two years. In 1997, the term for the President was changed back to one year, but this change did not last long. In order to bring the WRPA into the same term alignment as the Midwest Regional Council, the WRPA Board of Directors voted to make the term of office for President a two-year term in 2000. The term for WRPA President has remained the same ever since.
Another significant change throughout the history of the Association concerned the annual State Conference. For most of its history, the WRPA held the State Conference in the spring. Due to weather concerns associated with springtime in Wyoming, a decision was made in the late 1990’s to move the State Conference to the fall. The first fall State Conference was held in Rawlins in 1998. The following year, the conference was held in Lander and attendees were greeted to 12” of snow on the first day…….so much for better weather in the fall.
In 1978, Hershey assumed full sponsorship of a truly national program involving all 50 states. Each state conducts meets at the local and state levels. Teams from each of the the various NRPA regions are selected on the basis of comparative times and distances with every state being represented on a regional team. In 1978, the National Finals were held at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia in conjunction with the induction of members into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Cheyenne was selected by the WRPA Board as the site of the 1978 Wyoming State Finals and four communities participated the first year: Cheyenne, Evanston, Gillette, and Jackson. Ten youngsters represented Wyoming at the National Finals.
In 1984, the Nationals Finals was moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania to the new Henry Hershey Field. The stadium is surrounded by the lush grounds of the Milton Hershey School. Hershey has sent hundreds of Wyoming boys and girls on an all expense paid trip to the National Finals since the program’s inception. A trip to Hershey is an exciting experience for everyone and one that the kids will never forget. The track meet is just a part of the excitement, along with an exclusive tour of the main factory, and the Friendship Banquet at Founder’s Hall.
The site of the Wyoming State Finals rotated every two years, and the State Coordinator position was appointed by the WRPA Board.
The last state meet was held in 2013, after Hershey discontinued their track and field program.
In October 1981, the NRPA Board of Trustees approved the by-laws of the Recreation, Park Resources, and Leisure Services National Certification Board, referred to as the NCB, as an independent administering body of the NRPA. On March 18, 1982, at the WRPA Annual Meeting, Dr. Don Warder reported on the proposed national certification and accreditation programs.
At the May 1982 WRPA Board meeting, Bob Gibson, Chairman of the Certification Committee, explained the program as a means to establish a minimum certification level for professionals. In September 1983, the Certification Committee became the State Certification Board. Board members dealt with the structure of the Board, application fees and attendance at non-WRPA workshops. The WRPA Board set the application fee at $10.00 and established the State Certification Board at five members with three year terms to be appointed by the President with approval by the WRPA Board. Forms were developed for certification status and for CEU application. The process for awarding credit for continuing education was achieved at the 1984 WRPA Conference in Casper. Members were given an orientation in the process of applying for certification, as well as, applying for CEU credit for non-WRPA sponsored training programs. By December 1984, thirty members had applied for certification and four for CEU credit.
The State Certification Board became the Professional Certification Board at the September 1984 WRPA Board Meeting. The PCB began working on a WRPA certification manual as its primary goal. Once that was accomplished, goal #2 was to gain approval of the certification plan through the National Certification Board.
The WRPA membership approved the PCB plan at the March 21, 1985 Annual Meeting. In April 1985, the National Certification Board notified the WRPA that the Wyoming certification plan had been reviewed and approved. Seventy-five members received CEU credits at the 1985 Conference in Cheyenne.
In 1976, “Recreation Report” became a joint publication of the Wyoming Recreation Commission and WRPA. It was published bimonthly. In 1978, “WRPA News” became the official publication of the WRPA until the name was changed in 1987 to “WRPA FOCUS”.
The “WRPA FOCUS” is an informational and educational publication that acts as a means of acquainting the membership and interested parties with current and future events, news, and job opportunities. The membership is responsible for providing articles to the Editor for semi-annual publication, highlighting news and information on various topics within the profession of parks and recreation.