Monday, February 08, 2010

Ralph On Retirement

Well, it’s official. After thirty-five years with the forest service, I have decided to retire. My retirement letter was released in late January and since then I have learned some valuable lessons and tips on the retirement process. I’ve been passing them on to others who are considering doing the same.

One of the tips is get ready for questions. The top three questions are:

“So, what are you going to do?” Answer: The answer varies depending on who is asking.

“What advice do you have for someone who CAN”T retire?” Answer: Keep working.

But my favorite question is, “What was the highlight of your career?” When I tell people without a doubt the most remarkable and amazing thing I did in the last thirty–five years was coordinate the seedling tree program without exception everyone gets a blank look on their face and stares at me. Most people are expecting to hear about one program or another, a position I held, or a fire story. Few people even know I worked on the seedling tree program for two years. So, they are shocked by the answer. It usually results in getting a cup of coffee, finding a place to sit, and answering the follow-up question, “Why?”

Seedling trees are grown by our nursery and sold to landowners throughout the state to help reforest their property and establish windbreaks. Most district offices work with the extension service. For a percentage of the sales, the extension service publicizes the program and consolidates the orders. The forest service would help unload the trees (usually one or more semi trucks full) and be available at the distribution site to help fill orders and answer questions.

In 1977, I was a field forester assigned to one of our district offices. When asked if I would coordinate the seedling tree program I whined and cried. I was young (24 years old) and had a lot to prove. I tried explaining seedling trees weren’t real forestry and the extension service had changed drastically in the last couple of years. Now, most of the people working there were elderly women, in their late forties or early fifty’s. I mean really, I didn’t want to work with a bunch of “old ladies”. Looking back on it now, that might not have been the best argument to use. I was assigned to coordinate the program.

I was mad as . . . . well, I was really mad. I found out the person coordinating the program was a women by the Charlene. Finally, I drove over to the extension service office. As I walked into the extension office, there at the receptionist desk was one of the most beautiful creatures God ever made. The lighting was bad so I can’t say for sure, but I think there was an angel’s halo above her head. I told her who I was, why I was there, and that I needed to speak with Charlene. She introduced herself as – Charlene. Immediately, I started loving seedling trees!

While I won’t admit to achieving ‘stocker’ status, I found reasons to call her over the next few weeks. “How are sales going?” “Do we still have everything in stock?” “How many people will need to unload the trucks?” She answered the questions directly. There was no idle chitchat. No personal information deluged, this woman was all business, and it truly was a little frustrating.

Finally, distribution day arrived. I showed up at the site ready to help distribute seedling trees. But, there was a problem. My current girl friend, who was the receptionist at the district office, came along to help. She and I had been going together for a while. She wanted to get married and I wanted to . . . well, it’s really not important what I wanted.

Throughout the day, Charlene and I made eye contact but rarely talked. The day ended and everyone started to go home, including my girl friend. It was just Char and I. We started closing up when it happened. The garage door opener on the west end of the “barn” broke. The “barn” is the building in this picture and where the trees were distributed.

Char said she would call the repair service and wait for them. I said I would wait with her. She said she was a big girl and I didn’t need to wait. I told her I was staying. She told me to go home. I told her no. She told me she would be all right. I told her I wasn’t going to leave her there alone. She told me to ... well, if you haven’t figured it out we weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye.

We sat there for the most part in silence until the repairman arrived. He fixed the door, Char signed the bill and then in silence we each went to our respective car.

A few days later, the silence between Charlene and I had to come to end, we still needed to finalize the books and close out the project. Somewhere, I worked up the courage to ask her out. To my amazement, then and now, she said yes.

We went on our first date, then our second. In the end, we were married.

So, when anyone asks me, “What was the highlight of your career?” I tell them honestly, “The seedling tree program, because of it I have a wonderful wife and two great kids. There’s no better reason to work thirty-five years."


Blogger nora said...

This is the best story ever! I adore it!
And congratulations! Now you have time for a Red Key cheeseburger.

7:08 PM  
Blogger Aravis said...

Now that is the best story you've ever told, and that's saying something!

Happy retirement Ralph. It's time for you to step aside so some other young man can meet his mate. ;0)

8:21 PM  
Blogger Jerry in Indiana said...

That is a great story, Ralph.

Nora's right. You and Char need to come to Indiana for a visit. I would advise waiting until the thaw.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Cliff said...

Ralph, It's worked out pretty well with one of you being "all business"
I'd like to ask Char if you've ever lost your "stalker" status. I'm guessing she'd say no.
Congrats on being one of the suriviors.
Now, don't be a stranger.

5:17 AM  
Blogger Live Well, Laugh Often & Love Much said...

OK …. I agree with the rest of the comments, this is a great post.

The seedling tree program, because of it you did end up with a wonderful wife and two great kids.

No reason to leave out the rest of the truth …

You also have the best daughter in law a guy could ask for.... RIGHT ?

CONGRAULATION is defiantly in order!

I know that I am thankful for the seedling g tree program too!

8:22 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

What did your bosses think about you and Char starting your own "Seedling Program" on the side?

4:38 PM  
Blogger EV said...

Standing applause on a great career and family. Enjoy your retirement Ralph.

8:05 PM  
Blogger Jim said...

Ralph, this is a wonderful story. Right away when you mentioned Char I realized why you would say the 'seedling program' was the best liked.

Did you have one of those Colorada weddings like the one Cliff performed?

It is about time you retired. I really didn't think you were old enough but 35 years is plenty of service for the woods and all.
Now you can either move to Texas or visit when the snow comes. Be sure to come far enough south, like where we are, or you might hit snow, what with the new global warming.
Bring your golf clubs.
Our Guest bedroom will be reserved for you whenever you give the word.

10:53 PM  
Blogger Granny Annie said...

I found this post in my google reader and when I tried to comment it told me the post didn't exist. I thought you had deleted it and I was sad because I had a very "sappy" comment to post. (Get it? "sappy" like tree sap?") But I forgot what it was.

Anyway, Happy Retirement to you. I can guarantee you will love it but never as much as you love Char!

5:00 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Retirement? Now you can do all those exciting things you've been wanting to do!!

I LOVED the story Ralph!! No wonder that is the highlight of your career!!

11:43 AM  
Blogger Ramblings of a Villas Girl said...

Hi Ralph! Congrats on retirement. As long as you and Char enjoy yourselves, the questions are mute. Well except for your favorite question. What a wonderful story.
So when do you official retire? Lisa

3:46 PM  
Blogger Paul Nichols said...

Fabulous story, Ralph. What a way to announce your retirement. I can't believe I missed this in the week you posted it.

By the way, I remember a picture you posted of Char with a big pistol. I understand how she can be pretty "business-like." Thanks for this great story. Work on it. Publish it.

Now in all your upcoming travels whistle real loud when you pass by our necka the woods. Please.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Janell said...

What a great story! Very well-written, too.
And congratualtions on your retirement. Blessings!

12:09 PM  
Blogger bobbie said...

What a wonderful story, Ralph. Congratulations on your retirement, and more importantly, on your finding your wonderful wife.
when people heard I was retiring, they all said I'd be sorry, there would be nothing for me to do, etc. don't you believe it! I know that you and Char will enjoy it thoroughly.

10:42 AM  

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