Holt grateful for his years working at the reservoir


Terry Holt: ?I was very fortunate how things fell into place.?

Terry Holt, 55, became almost synonymous with Marion Reservoir in the public mind during his many years of work and management there.

But for Holt, his career of 31 years, 9 months, at the federal lake was a ?grace of God? opportunity that returned him to his hometown to raise a family while doing the work he loved.

?I was very fortunate how things fell into place,? Holt said. ?It was not my planning, but everything just fell into place. God had his hand in it because it certainly was providential.

?There were situations when I might have wondered what might happen next. But I couldn?t have planned it any better.?

Holt was home from college for the summer of 1974, living with his parents, Arnold ?Arnie? and Florence Holt, on the west side of Marion fully expecting to work at his father?s Champlin gasoline station.

?I fully expected to be fixing tires, and changing oil for Dad that summer,? Holt said. ?I was sitting there at the station when Cecil Wilson, the manager at the reservoir, kicked my chair, and asked if I wanted to work at the reservoir mowing grass, and doing odd jobs.

?I looked at Dad, and he didn?t say anything, so I looked at Cecil, and said, ?Sure.??

Holt became a WG2 laborer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that summer. He said he worked with many ?old timers? who were there at the time the lake was built in 1968. Those coworkers included Francis Jirak, Ralph Eding, Harold Bowers and Bob High?smith.

?We had a lot of fun,? Holt said. ?I did things like mow grass and carpentry work.?

Holt was hired back for a second year, and then applied to work in his third year as a ranger. He was hired as a summer ranger working under Jim Harris, who now is a biologist with Corps Tulsa District No. 1. He also worked with forester Bruce Padgham, who still lives in Marion.

Holt said, ?I owe a lot to Bruce and Jim.?

When Holt graduated from Emporia State University in 1977, he became permanent with the Corps, and was transferred to work at Elk City for a year and a half.

He completed his ranger training and was at Robert S. Kerr Lock and Dam 15 in Oklahoma when the opportunity came for him to fill an opening at Marion Reservoir. Padgham asked for Holt, influencing his ?step back home.?

Holt said the Corps, as a part of the U.S. Army, seems almost instinctively to place people away from their home areas, so it was an unusual move.

He and his new bride, Anne, felt fortunate to return to his Marion home to raise a family. Holt had been driving back from Elk City to Emporia State, where Anne was a freshman, to date her.

Their children, Andy, 23, Laura, 19, and Louis, 16, all have grown up in Marion.

In the meantime, Holt held various federal titles, including WG2, park technician, park ranger, park manager, lake manager, head ranger and natural resource specialist.

No matter what he was called, he became the Corps spokesman when anything was needed at Marion Reservoir.

Holt said perhaps the most stressful year of his tenure was 2003, when the Corps realized that due to lack of funds, ?we had to reduce staff to fix infrastructure.?

Padgham was lost as area manager. Persons like Jirak and Joan Winter were lost to the program.

?We were a good team,? he said. ?It was a kick in the pants to break them up. They would thoroughly respond to any situation. I thoroughly enjoyed having a resource like these people. It?s really hard to replace their level of dedication.?

In his final years with the Corps, Holt became a leader in a new program for crisis intervention and support. He was one of the first two Corps people used in Hurricane Katrina response, and saw the program further developed for quicker use with Hurricane Gustav.

He became an instructor for the program, which now has expanded to uses such as training for Army chaplains headed to Iraq and suicide counseling.

One of the first uses, Holt said, was in the Tulsa District when the Interstate 40 bridge collapsed in Oklahoma.

Besides being a part of this expansion of mental, spiritual and physical support, Holt is pleased to see the efforts he and others have made over the years paying off in improved facilities at Marion Reservoir.

When he first started, Holt said there were mostly small campers in small tents.

?We had no idea of the extent to which 35- and 40-foot campers would develop, and the demands for electricity, showers and facilities that would come with them,? he said.

Padgham gave the main impetus to develop campsites with electricity and water, and Holt said he tried to help make improvements during his tenure.

?The early situation was a free for all,? Holt said. ?There were dirt paths cut everywhere. It was a real circus.

?We added the facilities. We coordinated with all of the sheriff?s administrations that came into the county. It?s now a good, secure, family-oriented place.?

Holt said his regard for co-workers at the reservoir continued with working with Neal Whittaker and Traci Robb. Robb is the team leader at Marion Reservoir now.

Holt predicted there will always be new challenges for an area the size of the lake. Since it was expected originally to have a 50-year lifespan, he isn?t surprised at sediment problems and nutrient levels as the reservoir progresses in the natural eutrophication process.

He said even the recent introduction of zebra mussels into the reservoir probably had a 100 percent chance of occurrence.

?It was only a matter of when,? he said.

Holt said he doubted that any lake will permanently escape the mussels.

Holt said their presence will mean a process of continual management and response for everybody to keep maintaining Marion Reservoir as ?the jewel of Marion County.?

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