Biography of Alexander A. Fisk

Alexander A. Fisk, in charge of the park system of Racine, is actuated in all of his work by broad humanitarian principles. It is not his object merely to develop a park system in Racine that will be a thing of beauty. He has the higher and broader purpose of making it as well a place of recreation to meet the demands of the public needs in this regard, knowing that ninety-five per cent of the people never have, in vacation periods, the opportunity to leave home. He is closely and thoroughly studying modern problems relative to the welfare of the individual and his ideas are at once practical and resultant. Mr. Fish is a native of Michigan, born February 14, 1877, his parents being Sydney and Rose (Aird) Fisk, natives of Canada, who, in the year 1877, came to the United States. The father was a shoemaker in early life, but on removing to Michigan settled on a farm in Tuscola County, where he still resides, having long been identified with the agricultural interests of that locality.

Alexander A. Fisk obtained his education in the public and high schools of Caro, Michigan, and in the Michigan Agricultural College, from which he was graduated with the class of 1905. His entire life work has been along the line in which he is now engaged, his primary service and activities being initial steps toward this end. He was first employed by the D. M. Ferry Seed Company in expert work for a year as a horticulturist- and afterward spent two years in that connection in the employ of the Cuban government. Later he was for five years with the West Chicago park system, in charge of one of the largest parks, and in 1910 came to Racine to take charge of the parks of this city. The official reports show the splendid work that he has done. He has beautified the park system, which is today most attractive in its appearance, presenting broad spaces of green lawn, adorned with the art of the landscape gardener, with beautiful flowering shrubs and fine trees, presenting attractive vistas and enchanting sheltered retreats, but all this is, in his mind, subservient to the higher purpose of making the park a recreational center. He has given deep thought to human interest problems, the reasons for parks and what they can do for the city, where ninety-five per cent of the people must take their vacations at home. He builds parks for the people’s use, building with the idea of utility and, basing his work upon the truth that true art never conflicts with utility, he therefore makes the place useful as well as ornamental and he has been consulted by many who are making close study of the question of converting the parks into great public playgrounds. He believes that today the greatest recreation problem is that of bringing to the attention of the park commissioners of the country the necessity of developing their park areas more along recreational lines and in adopting this policy he does not have in mind the elimination of the landscape features nor any of the beauty which has marked park development in the past. In a communication to H. S. Braucher, of New York, secretary of the Playground & Recreation Association of America, Mr. Fisk said: “Some time during the last ten or fifteen years, Public Parks, as an institution, have undergone a very radical change so far as their functions are concerned. This is not altogether appreciated nor is it understood by a lot of people who are actively engaged in park work. They still maintain that the beautiful lawn, which is a beautiful thing to look upon, is quite the ideal. It very frequently happens that large lawns can be used for some form of recreational activity without in any sense marring their beauty. Park systems can be so designed that all of their areas are used for recreational purposes of some sort or other and yet those structural features so prominent in the children’s playground are so hid from view or screened in such a way that they do not stand out too prominent in the landscape. All of these features have received from time to time a considerable amount of discussion, yet T feel that the normal growth of public recreation depends largely upon the uses to which park areas are dedicated. The park commissions of this country have in the past and will continue to have jurisdiction over the large open areas, developed and maintained by the municipalities, and it is through work and co-operation with these park commissions that the purpose of the recreational movement can be best served. On many occasions I have discussed this problem with one of your field secretaries, Mr. L. H. Weir. He told me that he very frequently finds park commissions a very difficult body to work with, due to the fact that they have so many antiquated ideas concerning the proper uses of parks and their relation to the people, etc. I maintain that notwithstanding this condition of affairs, yet it still remains that the general public is quite educated to the idea of the park commissions acquiring certain lands for public parks and playgrounds. There is more or less aversion to the creation of a new commission, sometimes called the recreation commission, working out the recreational problems alone. When such a commission is created, it becomes necessary for them to acquire certain tracts of land for playgrounds. Oftentimes the work of such a commission overlaps the work of another commission which has been doing work in the same city. 1 could without difficulty give you a large number of specific instances where playgrounds have been duplicated within a few blocks of one another, leaving large areas in another section of the city unprovided for. There is another problem which has impressed itself upon my mind as I have gone from one city to another during the last ten years. There are only a few large cities in this country. It is true that they have done marvelous work in the recreational field. They have built elaborate playgrounds and the field houses oftentimes which have been built on the playgrounds run up into thousands of dollars. All this work, of course, has been given wide publicity. Everyone in the country who is engaged in this line of work has in a general way become more or less familiar with the fine equipment that has been supplied through the various park commissions of these large cities. They have all availed themselves of the opportunity when afforded to visit these places so that they might get sonic idea for their own home city. While it may furnish them an example of what might be done had they the funds, yet 1 question whether there is a single suggestion that they may get and take home to their own city because of its elaborations. The great bulk of playground work of this country must take place within the confines of a city very much smaller than the half dozen or dozen cities which have been doing this work on such a large scale, and the appropriations of these smaller cities is so very small that they hesitate about attempting these problems even on a smaller scale because they seem to have the idea that this splendid equipment is necessary in order that they may do the work required. I think this contention is proven by the fact that you will find very few cities of from fifty to seventy-five thousand that have built field houses where winter activities are carried on. The necessity for winter work is just as great as for summer work, even more so, because they seem to have the idea that this spindid equipment is necessary in the summer time. People will, to a more or less extent, get out doors in the summer time and in some form or other if no other than walking get outdoor exercise. Then, too, in the winter time we find that it is possible and much easier to organize the community for social work. We built one of these field houses on our Lake View playground it was an experiment and I was at quite a loss to know exactly how to design such a building, the cost of which all told did not exceed seventy-five hundred dollars. This building has a gymnasium forty by sixty-five feet, twelve shower baths, locker rooms, reading room, which can he used as a dining room, kitchen and comfort stations for both men and women. The place is heated with steam and we have a hot water plant for heating water for the shower baths. This entire equipment, to Ste exact, cost seven thousand three hundred and twenty-four dollars and eighty-five cents. This figure comes within the reach of cities of approximately fifty thousand. They could even build two or three of these buildings. So the time will come, with the proper kind of a policy in vogue, when every section of the city will be well served. It would be quite a lengthy story, of course, to tell you the results that we received when this building was opened, and the dances and social programs which were instituted during the winter months far surpassed anything that we had anticipated. If we could make a list of all the cities in the United States and Canada large enough to have quite extensive park systems, we would find that by far the largest amount of money and by far the largest area was comprised in cities ranging from fifty to one hundred thousand population and perhaps a little larger, leaving only a very few cities of major size which, of course, can afford these elaborate institutions. Rut the national recreational problems are not going to be solved in the larger cities. Seventy-five per cent of it must take place within the cities of second and third class. During the last two or three years I have been making some analyses concerning the ages of the boys and girls who participate in some form of public recreation. Along with that I have been gathering data from various cities concerning the predominant age of the population. I think you will find on investigation that the population of any city. of those past thirty years of age, is not less than sixty and sometimes approaching seventy per cent of the entire population. It is also a fact that everyone who has passed the age of thirty discontinues what we call strenuous games, such as baseball, football, basketball, and a great many even discontinue tennis, which is entirely unnecessary if they play with some degree of regularity. We find that when one passes the age of thirty that he ceases to take part in any systematic and regular form of recreation. This is one of our big problems. Our American people have not as yet come to a lull understanding and appreciation of the necessity of outdoor exercise, and no national habit has yet been formed, much as we find quite true with the English people. We are busy and it is commercial problems that take up the most of the American man’s time. It seems to me that we have got to provide those forms of recreation which the man or woman past the age of thirty can enjoy with pleasure and without detrimental fatigue. Such games as boating and canoeing, bowling on the green, and there are a great number of games that are not thoroughly understood which would fit in very admirably in a public recreational policy and which would work out the recreational problems for the adult population. It is also true that the adult population forms the public opinion, and it is safe to conclude that an adult population, which is a ‘playing’ population, actually taking part in sane form of recreation, will more readily see the importance and necessity of building up public recreation institutions and will foster and support commissions which are trying to build up these institutions than an adult population only passively interested. I, therefore, feel that too much stress cannot be placed upon providing adequate recreation for the adult population.” The value of his service in this connection cannot be overestimated and he is fast setting standards which are attracting to his work isle public attention, while his methods are being adopted elsewhere.

In 1908 Mr. Fisk was married to Miss Helen Mackay of Chicago, a daughter of J. C. and Jessie Mackay, and they now have one child, Jessie Louise. In polities Mr. Fisk has always maintained an independent course, casting his ballot according to the dictates of his judgment as regards the questions which are before the public for settlement. Fraternally he is connected with the Elks and he belongs to the National Association of Park Superintendents.



Racine County WI,

Racine County Wisconsin History: Racine Belle City of the lakes and Racine County Wisconsin a record of settlement organization progress and achievement. SJ Clarke Pub Co. Chicago. 1916. 1216 pgs.

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