Loretta said even at 2 a.m., Dale usually has an ear tuned to what is happening outside. His duties have been seven days a week. He hasn’t taken vacations.
Loretta has been his co-worker, most of the time keeping open the bait shop, where part of their job benefit is entitlement to the concessions. As a matter of fact, when they moved to the lake, it was for a pay check of $210 a month, plus a home and the concessions rights.
Devoted to the lake
When you talk to Dale about the varieties of fish, wildlife and plants at the lake, you begin to realize he has learned to appreciate nature’s depths.
He knows the importance of mowing grass and maintaining live trees for people. But he also appreciates the dead tree that can provide an eagle perch or habitat for other life, and the brush piles that provide fish a place to spawn in the water or cover for wildlife on the land.
Even in the Marion County Commission room they are asking themselves, “How do you replace a Dale Snelling?”
The difference between finding a replacement and finding a successor becomes more obvious than usual.
Dale’s duties in public relations have included fine points that many persons might not realize.
For instance, he said, when he has found a father with his family who has violated a lake boating or fishing rule, he doesn’t usually write a ticket for the father like he is empowered to do. Instead, he carefully explains the rule to that father, even gaining his support for the rule.
That kind of care, Snelling said, means he has seen up to four generations of the same family returning to the lake instead of never returning because they were embarrassed.
Many of the same people have become lake residents, he said.
Snelling said another key to the lake’s success is that it has stayed a relatively rustic setting. In these days when electronics, commercialism and development are taking over, Snelling said people have appreciated being able to return to a “natural” setting.
Snelling takes satisfaction in knowing that in recent years his management at the lake has brought in $95,000 to $112,000 in annual income through things such as boating and camping fees—in addition to the $39,000 to $50,000 tax levy received.
He has had income for such things as encumbering money from year to year for improvements, and for stocking fish before the state took over that job.
“I’ve always had money left at the end of a year,” he said.
Marion County natives
The Snellings never were strangers to this area.
Loretta grew up only two miles away, in what was considered to be the Florence area, with her parents, Frank and Nellie Richmond.
Dale grew up on a farm near Peabody with his parents, Richard and Dorothy Snelling.
Loretta said Richard Snelling ran a county road maintainer, and was well known.
“My Grandfather Snelling also was kind of a politician,” Dale said. Loretta and Dale thought that might have had an effect on his getting the job.
The Snellings said the move to the lake was good for the next generations, too. Loretta said her four children all became swimmers and learned to fish. They also learned to work at mowing and other lake jobs.
There was always plenty to do at a park with 150 acres of land and 150 acres of water.
“Danny was just 3 when we came here and Sherry was 8 or 9 months.”
Part of the Snellings’ retirement plan is to enjoy their grandchildren. Of their children, Daniel lives in Marion, Sherry Hess lives in Marion, Leann Leurman lives in Sedgwick, and Dean lives in Goessel. Among them, the Snellings have 11 grandchildren and one great grand-baby.
Dale said he also plans to enjoy the pond and the creek on the farm where they’ll live.
“And, we’re going to travel,” he said. “That’s something we’ve never been able to do. I’m 64, and we’re going to go enjoy ourselves.”
One thing Dale regrets is that they probably will leave the lake with perhaps the county’s most popular restaurant, Kingfisher’s, still not open under new ownership.
Dale said Kingfisher’s was built at the lake in the 1950s, and seems to have been popular from the start.
Appreciating the history
The Snellings appreciate the history of the lake, and find memories of the Works Progress Administration workers who built it all around, from structures they built to a new statue commemorating their efforts.
The lake was finished in 1939, and Dale said it opened officially May 26, 1940.
Contrary to what many oldtimers believe, Dale said it wasn’t built using mules and dirt sledges. The oldtimers probably were confused because mules were used in building U.S. Highway 77, Dale said.
The lake workers had bulldozers, but they definitely weren’t modern ones, and much of their equipment would be unusual by today’s standards, he said.
For instance, they used trucks called “Indians” that dumped loads of dirt from the side instead of from the rear like a modern truck would.
The Snellings have a pile of photos of the process.
The first county lake managers were Jerry and Verona Mulligan.
After her husband died, Verona managed the lake until John Waner took over in 1955. Waner still lives at the lake.
The Snellings came in 1964, making only three sets of managers in the lake’s history.
Dale said when they came the lake hall was a 90-foot army barracks with a kitchen at one end. The new hall was built in 1976, he said.
His first office was the old engineer’s office left from construction, located just to the west of the current office and home, and included a long section for showers and sleeping quarters.
A place for fishing
One popular feature, the heated dock for fishing, was already there.
Snelling said Marion County Lake always has been noted for the crappie fishing. Even during the frigid weather of the past two weeks, the crappie were beginning to bite.
Snelling has seen new hybrid varieties of fish introduced, such as the wiper and the saugeye. Walleye were popular when they were introduced in the 1960s.
The Northern Pike died out after a short while. Catfish are important.
Still, the crappies are the lake’s most popular fish.
If demand is a measure of popularity, then Dale Snelling is popular, too. He had to put in a dock at the lake with workmen when it arrived earlier this month, the first time this interview was scheduled. Then it had to be postponed again.
Snelling isn’t slacking off as a short-timer.
“Oh, I’ll be able to walk away from it,” he said. “But it will be hard not to think about it a little bit.”