The Oshkosh Recreation Department was created in April of 1916, when a playground and recreation tax was passed, which provided for the “Use of school buildings and grounds for auxiliary educational and recreation activities.” The department was organized and administered by the Board of Education and a tax supported budget created.
Six playground sites were opened for six weeks in the summer of 1916 for a 42-day period. The total attendance at these all-day playgrounds was a staggering 46,557, which averaged out to 1,108 per day. The total cost was $1,000 for the entire summer, or a fraction over two cents per attendee.
This information was prepared for the Board of Education by the initial Director of the Department, Mr. A.S. Hotchkiss in a report at the end of the department’s third year of operation, on September 1, 1919. The recommendations from A.S. Hotchkiss in his initial report to the School Board in 1919 are amazingly similar to those that may be written today.
In that initial report, he wrote,
“It is practically out of the question to expect to secure real neighborhood recreation leaders in the future for a wage which is hardly equivalent to that paid an errand boy or clerk in a small country store. The education requirements are on a par with those of teachers, the demands are much more exacting, the hours are long, inconvenient and arduous, there is much night work. The matter of securing adequate leadership can be solved by paying salaries sufficient to attract real talent.”
Today, the City of Oshkosh, and specifically the Oshkosh Area School District covers 102 square miles of eastern Winnebago County and has an operating budget of $1.7 million. The District currently operates:
- 14 elementary schools,
- five middle schools,
- two high schools,
- an outdoor education center,
- the Recreation Gymnasium,
- Alberta Kimball Auditorium.
The District operates as a unified school district, governed by a seven-member Board of Education elected at large. Oshkosh’s present population is slightly over 70,000.
In Oshkosh, we are all proud of the Recreation Department and its heritage. Since its inception in 1916, many changes have taken place. However, we still continue to share the fundamental mission that A.S. Hotchkiss stated so well so many years ago. That is, to provide constructive use of the leisure time of our Community residents in organized recreation.
A.S. Hotchkiss provided a solid foundation for the development of the Oshkosh Recreation Department. In its 100 year existence, only five individuals have served as the Director. They are as follows:
A.S. Hotchkiss 1916-1922
Frank Berg 1922-1929
R.C. Miller 1929-1960
Charles Drayna 1960-1987
Al Wenig 1987-2020
Kabel Helmbrecht - 2020-Present