Play might seem like something basic and trivial, something children do when they’re not in school, or adults do when they’re not working and being productive.

But that’s not true at all.

Play might seem like something basic and trivial, something children do when they’re not in school, or adults do when they’re not working and being productive.
But that’s not true at all.

Play and recreation have the ability to improve physical and mental health and generally make life more satisfying and fun for everyone. For those with disabilities, it can even lead to improved functioning and greater independence.

Dr. Charles “Chuck” Killingsworth, a professor in the Pittsburg State University health, human performance and recreation department, has devoted a good part of his life to teaching students how to help others play.

Since 1994, he has taught courses such as games and activities in recreation, recreation leadership and classes in therapeutic recreation, which focuses on persons with mental and physical disabilities and also helps older adults to remain socially active and express themselves creatively.

As a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist, Killingsworth has seen firsthand the benefits TR provides.

“PSU is the only institution of higher learning in Kansas that provides the degree program that prepares students to become TR specialists,” he said. “The University of Kansas did have a degree program in recreation therapy, but they eliminated it.”

His role at PSU will come to an end when he retires at the close of the spring semester. He and his wife, Lynda, plan to move back to Ojai, Calif., her hometown.

Originally from Ventura, Calif., Killingsworth discovered his calling after a journey that included a stint in the U.S. Marines and a tour of duty in Vietnam.

“I was in Vietnam in 1966, and came back on Aug. 10, 1966,” Killingsworth said. “I was discharged on Aug. 23 in Orange County, Calif., and I started classes on the GI Bill a week later.”

His first major was political science, but that didn’t work out well, so he changed to psychology.

“Then I got to thinking, what can you do with a degree in psychology?” Killingsworth said. “At that point I wasn’t thinking about going for an advanced degree.”

But he was thinking about a young woman, Lynda, that he’d met while both were summer employees at the Ojai, Calif., Inn and Country Club. She was going to school in Fresno, Calif., so Killingsworth  decided that he was going there, too.

“I took a one-credit weekend class on playground leadership, offered by Fresno State College and the City of Fresno,” he said. “You had to take that if you wanted to be a playground leader in Fresno. I thought, ‘Wow, this is it!’ and changed my major to recreation.”

Later, he was introduced to therapeutic recreation, and discovered that he very much enjoyed working with those who had cognitive impairments and the elderly.

“I identified a desire to work with people with disabilities and help them have a good quality of life,” Killingsworth said.

He went on to earn a bachelor of science in recreation administration from Fresno State University, a master of science in therapeutic recreation from San Jose State University, a master of arts in confluent education from the University of California at Santa Barbara and a doctorate in adult education from Columbia Pacific University.

He worked as an activity director at a home for the elderly. The first therapeutic recreation instructor in Canada, he taught for about 14 years at Mount Royal College, Calgary, Alberta.

“I was at a transitional learning community at  Galveston, working with people with head injuries for six months, then the PSU position opened up and I came here in the fall of 1994,” Killingsworth said. “I really wanted to get back into teaching.”

He also enjoyed coming to southeast Kansas.

“My great-grandparents settled in Bolivar, Mo., so moving here was almost like coming back home,” he said. “They moved there from the Carolinas where they had owned a plantation. My brother found a great-aunt still living in Bolivar. She had been married to our grandfather’s youngest brother, Great Uncle Jack. He had been a sheriff, and he and another man were once taken hostage by Pretty Boy Floyd.”

He  said that one of the gangster’s henchmen had suggested just killing Jack and the other man, but that Pretty Boy said it wasn’t necessary.

“They took Uncle Jack and the other man with them to Kansas City, then turned them loose,” Killingsworth said.

During his time in Pittsburg, he has become a guiding force in “Everybody Plays,” the campaign to develop a multigenerational, universally accessible playground at Schlanger Park. As originally planned, the playground would have carried a price tag of around $500,000.

“I think our biggest problem was that we tried to do too much too soon,” Killingsworth said. “We’re starting to re-frame now.”

The new plan would begin with a play area for youngsters aged 5-12, which would cost around $87,000.

“I think that’s more manageable, and we hope to get it done,” Killingsworth said.  “No matter how old you are, no matter what disabilities you have, everybody plays.”