Rocks, loss and the color purple


By Mandy Martin

Darke County Parks

I started working in parks back in the late 90s. I quickly learned that volunteers are the backbone upon which successful parks are built. I began my environmental education career at Lake Loramie State Park. I left the forests and mountains of Pennsylvania along with family and rented a small apartment in New Bremen. Talk about culture shock. The landscape alone was a huge adjustment for me. It was a lonely time. I was very young and knew no one. After a couple weeks I settled in to a routine. I spent most of my time working and when I wasn’t working I was at work. You see, I had a new family. My new family were VIPs! Years ago, Ohio State Parks had the Volunteer In Parks program, perhaps they still do. The volunteers actually stayed in the campground most of the week or at the very least, every weekend. They helped run the camp store, fix bikes, clean bathrooms, show movies, pick-up litter and adopt homesick naturalists. They took me under their wings as part of their families. They shared meals with me, invited me to rest at their campsite on busy days and assisted with all of my programs. I spent a lot of time with those volunteers and I remember them all fondly. Although many of them have passed, I cherish the memories of those summers with the Benge and Warren families, they both have a piece of my heart.

Vera Warren, VIP, always said Greenville/Darke County was “God’s Country.” Fast forward to September of 2000, I began my career with Darke County Parks! Volunteers are the cornerstone of Darke County Parks’ success. The Park District was founded by volunteers in 1972 and to this day, volunteers are the wind behind our sails. Much like my time at Lake Loramie State Park, I quickly became very close with our volunteers. In the winter of 2002, volunteers Wayne and Phyllis Davis, invited my then fiancée’ and I to dinner. They shared their family story with us, love of history, writing and photography. What I always remembered most about that evening were the delicious pastys and the talk of the Upper Peninsula. Phyllis made the pastys similar to what is served in the U.P. A pasty is a portable meat pie that could easily be carried into the copper mines for the 12-hour work days. The Davis’ loved the Upper Peninsula of Michigan including the culture, food and of course the rocks! That cold night we looked at so many beautiful rocks Wayne and Phyllis had collected on the shores of Lake Superior. I vowed then and there, that some day I was going to go the U.P. and experience what Wayne and Phyllis loved so much. Just a few weeks ago, my husband of 20 years and I finally made it to the U.P. It certainly was the trip of a lifetime. We brought home 55lbs. of Lake Superior rocks, toured the copper mines and visited Calumet, MI- home of the Pasty Fest. Of course, Wayne and Phyllis have both passed several years ago. I had the most vivid dream prior to our U.P. adventure. I dreamt I ran into Phyllis and was so excited to tell her, “guess where we’re going?” She smiled and beamed, “I am so happy for you!” Wayne and Phyllis have a piece of my heart.

In my 23 years in Darke County, the Park District, and I, have lost so many volunteers. Each loss seems to get tougher. I suppose because with age comes wisdom. I’m old enough to know now loss is part of life and we are left with only treasured memories. Most recently we suffered a devastating loss. Karen Jo Maule passed away on August 15, 2023. Karen Jo worked at the reception desk at Shawnee Prairie Preserve for nearly 10 years. She fell ill and was in Miami Valley Hospital while we were in Michigan. The cell service there was relatively non-existent but at 10 p.m. on Friday, August 11, I sent Karen Jo a text. Karen knew I loved her and I know she loved me. Karen was such a bright light. She and I shared so many stories of family, work, jewelry, nails and especially Tim and Diana’s Christmas open house. We laughed, we cried and then laughed some more. As everyone should know, Karen’s favorite color was purple, which coincidentally is also my favorite. While in Michigan, I purchased a beautiful purple amethyst ring at the mineral museum. I couldn’t WAIT to show it to Karen, after all, we both loved jewelry too. I never got that chance, but it’s ok. I have my memories, my rocks and the pieces of my heart that belong to so many wonderful volunteers along with our beloved “KJ”.

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