Members of the Southwest Park and Recreation Training Institute have been making the annual trek to Oklahoma since 1956. Created to serve practitioners in the parks and recreation field, the Institute has strengthened itself through the years because it is an agent for evolution within its steadfast mission, providing institutional stability without squelching needed change.
Elo J. Urbanovsky, a professor at Texas Tech University along with other notable park and recreation professionals in the early 1950’s, had the vision for a training institute for the Southwest. The model for its development was the Great Lakes Park Training Institute. After a meeting at an American Institute of Park Executives conference in 1955, plans were set to conduct the first Southwest Park and Recreation Training Institute in the spring of 1956 at the Lake Murray State Park Lodge.
Through the efforts of Elo Urbanovsky, L.B. Houston, R.R. Murphy, Mark Miles, Ernest Allen, Tye Bledsoe, Dwain Miller, and others, the first members arrived at the lodge. Room and meals were available for $5 per day and the full conference registration was $5. The attractive rate and outstanding value of the conference helped cultivate a loyal and growing membership. Membership increased to over 300 people annually. In 1961 the Institute moved to the Lake Texoma State Park Lodge, near Kingston, Oklahoma.
In 1965, Dr. James W. Kitchen took over the role of program chairman. With Dr. Kitchen’s leadership and Dorothy Bentley’s assistance, the Institute flourished in a time when the need for parks and recreation services and an awareness of our natural resources was rapidly expanding.
Dr. Kitchen was instrumental in bringing representatives from new federal agencies and information about programs created in the early 1960’s, such as the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the Housing and Urban Development Act to the Institute.
The Institute continued to change with the times. In 1974 it became independent from national organization ties. Along with Texas Tech, other universities such as Louisiana State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Stephen F. Austin, etc. contributed resources and support.
After Dr. Kitchen passed away in 1990, the Officers, Board of Directors, and Standing Committees, have kept the Institute program fresh with new ideas each year. The regional networking opportunities have been cited in recent membership surveys as an important reason for attending the Institute. Membership participation is a key ingredient in continuing the vitality and value of this training institute today.
In late 2006, The State of Oklahoma closed the Lodge at Lake Texoma Resort. So starting in 2007, the Institute moved from Lake Texoma Resort to our new home at Sequoyah State Park Resort. Thus allowing us to continue our long standing relationship and tradition with the State of Oklahoma Parks.
The current logo for Southwest Park and Recreation Training Institute symbolizes the migration of birds to the Tishamingo National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was always one of the late Dr. Kitchen’s favorite places to visit. Rich in history and success, the Institute continues to promote educational opportunities and career enrichment for parks and recreation professionals as they flock to Oklahoma each year.