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The Best Friends - A Personal Tribute to Ranger Dave

by Carol McFeeters Thompson
April 2012

I had decided to leave the work force to stay at home with my newborn baby.  After my recovery, we settled into a comfortable routine and I used my new-found time at home to clean out all of my closets and organize my cupboards.  Soon all of my “some day” chores were completed and, not used to being idle, I began to look around for a worthy cause in which to invest some time.

I had enjoyed Weldon Springs for a lifetime, so it seemed the perfect fit.  I met with the Site Superintendent to ask about volunteer opportunities.  “What would you like to do?” he had asked. 

“Anything that will help,” I had answered, “just don’t ask me to speak in front of a group.”  I think he took that as a personal challenge.  I often joke that I have been speaking in front of groups ever since.  That meeting changed my life forever and one of my most treasured friendships began.

The best friends help you to become the best you can be.  They push you to exceed your own expectations - to run faster and jump higher.  The best friends believe in your potential.  They urge you to stretch, to grow, to try new things, to reach new heights, to face your fears and get out of your own way.

One of the projects I worked on in those early days was an eastern bluebird nest box trail.  We planned a trail, built and mounted the boxes, and began to monitor them weekly.  It was a labor-intensive project that I was very passionate about.  One day, as I approached one of the boxes, I heard a strange noise reminiscent of a peacock’s crow.  I looked around, and seeing nothing, opened the box.  Inside the box was a pile of Easter grass with three robin’s egg blue malted milk chocolate Easter eggs - a surprise from Ranger Dave.  I said nothing until his birthday.  He opened my gift to find a peacock disguise, which he dutifully donned.

The best friends help you to laugh at yourself, teaching you not to take life quite so seriously, to find the fun in your work and in everyday life.

I was out of state visiting Mom when I got a call asking, “Can you be back in town by Tuesday to have lunch with the Governor in Chicago?”  I thought at first it was another one of his little jokes, but not this time.  “No really.  You were just named Illinois Volunteer of the Year.”  When I woke up at home on Tuesday morning, he had filled my front yard with a series of hand-lettered posters adorned with florescent orange streamers.  “Congratulations” “Illinois” “Volunteer” “of the Year.”  He had nominated me for the honor for my work on the Schoolhouse project and I had been chosen.
 
The best friends sing your praises.  They recognize your contributions and value your efforts.

I must have been distracted the day I left the back door ajar on my state vehicle.  I had been transferring equipment from the car to the shop at the end of the day and I think I must have stopped what I was doing to take a phone call or answer a question.  I left for the day without closing that door.  That night, there was a snow storm.  When I came to work the next morning, the back seat of the car was filled with snow.  A note on top of the snowdrift, in my boss’s familiar handwriting simply read, “No biggie.”  He hadn’t chewed me out, but he hadn’t swept out the snow either.  There is a lesson in there somewhere.

The best friends forgive your transgressions.  They know your strong points and your weak points and are friends with you anyway.

When the park was closed, he drove each of his staff individually to Springfield for our exit interviews.  During the time I was home without a job, he sent flowers and notes of support.  My favorites were a couple of postcards with pictures of the park.  The first one, of Veteran’s Point, said “Wish you were here.”  The second, of the harbor in autumn, followed a week or so later, saying “Wish you were here, too.”

Countless times there were sticky notes attached to projects I’d done.  “Great Job!”; “Good Work!”, even “Yahool!”  There were always words of encouragement.  The best friends always make the effort and  find the time.

Dave Herzog was my mentor, my boss, and my friend for twenty-seven years.  He was the type of person I aspire to be.  He dedicated himself to serving others and made a difference in people’s lives and in the community.  He modeled integrity and character.  I learned from him, admired him, and respected him.  I will miss him every day.
 
Until we meet again my friend, I’ll think of you when the redbuds bloom, when the leaves turn, and when the snows fall.

***

 


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(Last updated: 9/16/2015, cjw)