National Park Service
Person of the Month


This article first appeared in the Vol. 4 No. 7 (July 1981) edition of the Courier.

Ed Hummel: park management innovator

Ed Hummel was one of that flock of young historians who were recruited from the colleges and universities—in his case, from the University of Minnesota,—to help the National Park Service cope with its vastly enlarged concern with historical areas. His 7-year role as a historian saw him serving as regional historian in Region Two, in Omaha before he transferred to the Fredericksburg (National Military Park, Va.) superintendency in 1942. That service was highly creditable and constructive, and marked by a willingness to undertake whatever chore was asked of him, and get it done on time!

After 21 months at Fredericksburg and 3 years service as a naval officer, he donned the Park Service uniform again as superintendent of Colonial National Historical Park, Va. From those assignments and for the rest of his more than 35 years of Government service, Ed Hummel, though he never lost his interest in history, was primarily an administrator, and an extraordinarily competent one.

At Colonial, where there was much to be done in preparation for the 1957 anniversary observance, he faced the problem of rounding out Federal ownership of the lands of that historic area against bitter, and politically powerful, opposition. At Great Smoky Mountains National Park, N.C.-Tenn., where he served 6½ years as superintendent, his task was to bring together the often opposing forces of the two States in which the park lies into some kind of harmonious relation with it and with each other; also to persuade the purveyors of food, lodging, and other services, operating outside the park and beyond any legal Governmental control, to give satisfactory service at reasonable prices to the millions who visited the park each year.

Ed Hummel
(NPS Photo)

Ed was transferred to the Glacier National Park (Mont.) superintendency in mid-1958, at a time when public visitation was changing from that carried to the park by the Great Northern Railway to that supplied by the automobile, with sharply different demands for services. This situation had to be met out of a wide range of considerations—principally the need for the concessioner to make a reasonable profit and though having only a short season—to hold rates at levels that would not outrage—justly or unjustly—the visiting public. Also, he had to wrestle with the problem of determining the size and makeup of a year-round force, which could be kept busy during the long winters and yet be adequate to train and direct the several hundred temporary employees required for effective operation during the summer season.

At Glacier, Ed followed Jack Emmert, who had been superintendent for 13 years and was both an effective administrator and a much loved public servant. That Ed Hummel performed effectively was affirmed by his selection in 1962 as one of the Western Region's assistant directors; his advancement to the regional directorship the following year; and his transfer to Washington in 1966 to fill the position of assistant director. In this, he successfully supervised Policy and Program Analysis, Operations, Specialized Services, and Park Management—this last after a year as associate director, Management and Programming. For his many outstanding accomplishments he received the Department's Distinguished Service Award in 1967.

The year 1961 had brought a change of scenery for Ed; while he was superintendent of Glacier he was selected to serve on the French Antarctic Relief and Resupply Expedition.

In 1962 and again in 1971, Ed's recollection of his career were recorded on tape. Of the more than 400 such tapes in the Service's archives at Harpers Ferry Center, W. Va., few compare with these in articulateness and perspectiveness. The one characteristic that comes through all of some 69 typed pages of transcription is the enthusiasm—the gusto—with which Ed met the demands laid on him throughout his career; he seems to have enjoyed every minute of it. And, looking back on it in 1971, what would you suppose he enjoyed the most? Let him tell you himself.

"I don't know anything I had more fun with than when I was in the CCC. We were doing something new and different, and we had money, and we really went to town . . . I never worked at any time that I enjoyed it more. It seemed that we were afraid of nothing. If something had to be done, we would get it done." He noted that the places where his services were needed were scattered over a wide area of the Midwest; when the regular work-day ended at one point, it was almost routine to drive anywhere from 100 to 200 miles after dark to make the next day's assignment.

"Remember, I came into the Service as an ECW historian paid by CCC funds. Oftentimes I think back on the effectiveness, the efficiency, of the work which was done rapidly during that period when everything was moving fast, as an outstanding example of what we can do under pressure . . . . I believe that any impartial investigator of the work we accomplished during those ECW days with CCC money would have to agree that it was a credit to the Service and to everybody who participated in it."

Referring to an early and widespread tendency in the Service to apply the same management principles and practices to the historic areas, to the scenic and scientific areas, he noted an amusing example:

"A discussion came up of grazing cattle at Manassas. The Washington Office was unwilling to grant a permit because they feared it might establish a precedent for grazing in the national parks . . . In this particular instance we would never have been able to break the barrier except that I thought of the word 'pasturing' instead of grazing. So we pastured at Manassas, and we didn't graze."

Referring to land-acquisition difficulties at Colonial, largely forgotten by now: "There were many people in Yorktown who never did accept the Federal Government. I used to remark facetiously that if they had been living back in the time the Constitution was adopted, they would have voted against it, because they were Virginians and not American citizens or members of the United States.

"Some of the land was owned by people who were politically powerful. The Commonwealth's Attorney and the Clerk of the Court of York County owned some of the critical pieces; they made every effort to prevent us from acquiring them. I recall that one day, after trying for several years to negotiate with the Commonwealth Attorney for a piece of land, I discovered that he had a bulldozer leveling off the place to build a house. This was at or near the location of Redoubt Number 10.

"Well, I called Connie Wirth, who was then chief of Lands, and told him about it, and I think by the next afternoon, the court order, the declaration of taking for the land, was delivered; we had to act fast."

There were glimmerings of Ed's later career as an administrator in these observations about his early years, in the Regional Office in Omaha: "From about 1935 to 1938, most of the people in the region were little interested in historic sites; this left me practically the only one in the region concerned with them. It was good training."

Throughout his Park Service career, Ed was especially eager to provide career opportunities for park personnel. He believed that there should be specific ways and special effort to identify potential talent; his interest was not limited to the administrative career ladder but extended to all fields. He believed that persons with administrative talent should be given opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. He noted that superintendents generally were weakest in their knowledge of fiscal procedure and maintenance practices. He favored, and fought for, an integrated park system in which there would be no reluctance on the part of employees to move between West and East, or from a historic or scientific area to a scenic area, or vice versa. Before he retired, he felt that much of the resistance to some moves had disappeared.

In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, Ed Hummel married Vibekke Kjelland, Norwegian-born and a fellow-student of his in college. Their son, John Olaf, was born in 1934; their daughter, Kathrine Marie, in 1937. At the time of the 1971 taping, there were four grandchildren, about whom he remarked: "I'll tell you; one afternoon of four is enough."

While visiting friends in North Dakota in 1976, Ed Hummel died of a heart attack. Mrs. Hummel, known to a wide circle of friends as Becky, survived him by 4 years; she succumbed to cancer early in 1980 after a long and hard-fought illness.

—Herb Evison.

Last Updated: 01-Feb-2014