Goucher College is proud to honor Tupper Thomas, Class of 1966, with the AAGC Award for Excellence in Public Service. A nationally renowned parks expert who spearheaded the rebirth of Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, Tupper has devoted her professional life to advocating for and revitalizing green spaces dedicated to public use.
In 1980, Tupper made the auspicious decision to become the Prospect Park administrator. Although she had grown up in Minnesota, majored in political science at Goucher, worked thus far in urban planning, and knew little about parks, Tupper, like any Goucher alumna, felt prepared for anything.
Designed in 1867, the 580-acre Prospect Park was frequently cited by its creators—the landscape architects Frederick Olmsted and Calvert Vaux—as one of their most successful endeavors. For more than 100 years, the urban green space had played a key role in the life of Brooklynites. However, by 1980, like many urban parks throughout the country, it was in a state of disarray due to improper maintenance. The buildings were closed, no events were happening, and it received fewer than 1.7 million visits per year.
To Tupper, vibrant public parks play a key role in building strong communities in a democracy. In her first year, she created a family Halloween event and organized a New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza—both highly popular traditions that continue to draw tens of thousands of people to the park. She also pioneered a program through which neighborhood youths are offered the opportunity to work in the park as peer leaders. In 1987, she became president of the Prospect Park Alliance, a public/private partnership that sought to augment city dollars for park restoration. By the time she retired in 2011, Prospect Park had been fully restored, won back the hearts of the community members who had once forgotten it, and increased its annual visits to 10 million.
Tupper’s commitment to protecting and enhancing urban green spaces extended well beyond her leadership role at Prospect Park. In 1998, she and others founded the City Parks Alliance, the first national organization committed to parks in cities. Three years into her retirement, she returned to work—this time as the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, a champion for quality parks and open spaces for all city residents and visitors. In addition to research and advocacy work, New Yorkers for Parks, with the help of students, housing authority residents, civic associations, and friends of hundreds of parks, has planted more than 6 million daffodils in honor of lives lost on September 11.
Tupper has received the Fund for the City of New York Public Service Award, the American Society of Landscape Architecture Alfred D. Lagasse Award, the Leadership Award from City Parks Alliance, among others. Her biggest admirers, however, are her two children and three grandchildren.
Now a member of Goucher’s 50th Reunion class, Tupper, with her unflagging enthusiasm and steadfast commitment to open and communal urban spaces, has inspired city leaders and residents. She has worked tirelessly to bring beauty to her community—and to all communities. She has reminded us that vision and leadership coupled with dedication and collaboration are key to building and sustaining community treasures. For her leadership role in the advancement of her community, her country, and, of course, her alma mater, the Alumnae & Alumni of Goucher College recognizes her with its Award for Excellence in Public Service.