In 1935 I started at Christian College, now Columbia College, as a part-time teacher of swimming, diving and lifesaving. The second year I was a full-time faculty member, marching in the academic procession in cap and gown three times a year. My schedule then included tennis, archery and a posture-correction class that we euphemistically called "Body Contour."
When Grace Mitchell retired a few years later, my responsibilities included teaching a two-hour credit class called "Plays and Games." The class was based on J.B. Nash’s text, "Philosophies of Recreation."
Nash’s writing changed my thinking about the way recreational activities shape the lives of persons of all ages, particularly young people.
Instead of fun for fun’s sake, I realized, games instill teamwork, honesty, diligence, courtesy, fairness, good health and other positive attributes. The thrill of accomplishment on the playing field, in the water, at an arts and crafts table or in competitive athletics far outranks the joy of throwing rocks at street lamps, painting obscene words on public treasures or dumping garbage cans in alleys at night.
In time we changed the name of this class to "Recreational Leadership." Together, the students and I charted the needs of people of various ages, along with their interests and their abilities to perform in positive ways. The charting was a semester long project; putting a ship in a bottle was the semester’s craft project.
What can be gained from putting a ship in a bottle? It takes planning and perseverance to get that big ship through the tiny hole in the bottle’s neck. And when things go wrong, it takes patience and problem-solving to overcome difficulties - things not learned from books. At the end, the joy of accomplishment is tremendous. It also gave me insight into the qualifications of the students who seriously considered careers in recreation.
One day as a Columbia student was leaving my classroom, I stopped her and asked, "Janice, what major will you likely pursue when you’re at UMC?" "Probably psychology," she replied. I was disappointed. She was one of my best students, a conscientious person with high ideals.
"There’s a lot of psychology to be practiced in recreational work," I blurted out, recalling those positive things J.B. Nash mentioned in our textbook. "You might be right," she said as we parted.
Later, Janice Lewis Hagan, affectionately known as "Cookie," could be seen almost any day riding her bike loaded with various sizes of balls, gloves, bats, first-aid materials, notebooks and other miscellany required for leading games on summer playgrounds. She loved the job!
She still loves her job in an expanded recreation department serving an expanded city of Columbia. As the population grows, the department must keep pace.
I was one of Columbia’s first summer playground leaders 65 years ago. A big 16-year-old boy caused trouble to get attention. One day he started a fire in dry leaves at the corner of the ball diamond on Eugene Field School playground. It was quickly extinguished, and I said nothing until most of the children had gone home to supper. "Jerry," I said, "I think I could beat you in a game of horseshoes." He accepted the challenge.
To this day, I think it was providential that my horseshoes went like magnets to those metal pegs. As J.B. Nash’s text predicted, from that day on, Jerry was my helper, and we had no big bad boy on Field playground.