ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
Clarence and Eva Ramm work at the gate at Hillsboro Cove on Marion Lake Reservoir from April 10 through Oct. 10, but the other half of the year they travel.
And just where does a retired couple like the Ramms travel during the winter months?
“Wherever this thing will take us, that’s where we go,” Clarence said, referring to their motor home parked near the brown building that’s used as a checkpoint for vacationers renting a campsite or visiting the park.
The couple’s summer-job responsibilities include greeting the public, logging reservations and traffic in and out of the park, collecting campsite rental fees and reporting any problems to the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers.
“If you don’t like the public, you don’t want to be in this business,” Eva said.
“We’re the first people that people see-we give them information about where to shop or where to buy bait.”
Bruce Padgham, area manager at the reservoir office, gives the Ramms rave reviews for their work.
“Clarence and Eva are the kind of people that like to be around folks, and never met a stranger,” he said.
“They’re campers themselves and know what people are looking for when they come to the lake.”
Clarence, 79, is a familiar sight to most park vacationers as he drives around in his motorized wheel chair.
“I can’t walk very far because I have bad arthritic hips,” he said. “I can take about 10 to 15 steps.”
Eva, 52, and Clarence have been married for 26 years and can count eight children between them from previous marriages.
The grandchildren tally 14, and their great-grandchildren total 16.
But there’s one additional member of the Ramms’ household-Tipper, the couple’s black and white Shih Tzu.
“She kind of rules this house,” Clarence said.
The Ramms’ motor-home pad is on a campsite that come gratis with the job.
From the east side of the gate, a ramp leading up to their home is flanked by a newly planted flower garden. And there’s no need to ask the Ramms what the name of the flowers are, they said the important thing is they’re pretty.
Their camping spot is filled with a child’s flowered blue plastic swimming pool in which Tipper cools off, two covered picnic tables, barbecue grills and a vegetable garden.
Their home boasts a microwave, air conditioning and satellite television.
“Everything a person could want,” Eva said.
Clarence was previously in the auto-body repair business for 32 years in Pryor, Okla. He sold his business in 1983 and retired.
“Then we loafed around for two years, and I was too young yet,” he said. “So I couldn’t do it-I went back to work.”
He journeyed back to Oklahoma, and bought and sold wrecked cars for another 14 years.
Retirement became official when Clarence sold that business in 1997.
An avid fisherman, Clarence was asked to join a friend in a fishing tournament at Cottonwood Point. That event became the couple’s introduction to Kansas.
“Well, we were retired and not doing anything,” Clarence said.
“So we came to Marion Lake Reservoir, and we liked it so well we stayed two weeks.”
Eva said she contacted district headquarters in Tulsa about getting the summer job manning the gate and discovered it required submitting a bid.
Their current bid is up for renewal at the end of next summer.
“We’re under contract, and technically it’s a three-year contract,” Clarence said.
“After three years, the government has the right to not renew it.”
Undecided about renewing, the duo agreed they have next summer to think about it.
After all, the time clock in retirement runs at a different rhythm.
But they said they do keep pace with the clockwork at the park-working Sunday through Tuesday, having Wednesday and Thursday off, and back to work Friday and Saturday.
“Sixty percent of our park is reserveable,” Eva said. “And 40 percent is first come/first serve.”
Clarence candidly admitted which one of them has the majority of the gate responsibilities in the family.
“That’s her job,” he said. “I mostly fish.”
The park is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday and Tuesday; 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to 7 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday; 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday.
Another couple has joined the park team this year and works the gate the days Clarence and Eva are off.
There are 51 campsites at Hillsboro Cove, and the cost comes in at $14 a day per site.
Senior citizens over 62 who have a Goldenage Passport card or a Golden Access card only pay $7.
All the sites have electric hookups, and the park has water connections available to fill up recreational vehicles when needed.
The busiest times of the park season are weekends and holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day and the Hillsboro Arts and Craft Fair week, Eva said.
“The park’s already been filled twice this summer-Memorial Day and that first weekend in June,” she said.
Knowledgeable about the activities available at the park, the Ramms said in addition to fishing, campers can enjoy cooling off at the swimming beach, boating and jet skiing.
“The jet skiing is getting more and more popular,” Eva said.
And any visitor interested in fishing is welcome to stop at the gate and ask Clarence what kind of fish he catches.
“Anything that will bite the hook,” he said with a grin.
“The year before last, I caught a 58-pound catfish. So catfish is good, and we’re catching walleyes right now.”
The Ramms are not only good-will ambassadors for visitors from towns like Galva and McPherson, but they said they also enjoy spending time with friends and family who visit them at the park.
“We have these five families we met in Zapta, Texas, who are real close friends of ours,” Clarence said.
“They come down and camp and fish all during the summer, and we get together and have cookouts.”
The couple returned the good reviews Padgham gave them by complimenting the work of the Corp of Engineers.
“The Corp people we work for, they are tremendous,” Clarence said.
“We actually worked one year down in Texas, and we didn’t like the way their park was run.
“Here, they go out of their way to satisfy our gate attendants, and the maintenance and beautification of the park is almost perfect.”
And any visit with Clarence wouldn’t be complete without a fish story: “My buddy from Wichita, Arkie, we were putting out a trout line,” he said.
“He was baiting the hook, and stooping over-trying to tie the trout line to an anchor and fell out of the boat into the water.”
The bespectacled Arkie disappeared below the surface and immediately came right back back up-minus his glasses, Clarence said.
“Well, we’ve been looking for a catfish that’s wearing glasses ever since.”