Readers you are in for a treat as Tom Cervenak, Visitor Services and Marketing Manager for Virginia State Parks, weaves the story of how he came to work for parks and what his career has been like. This series will run nine chapters, with many of them split into two parts. This is the last part.
Chapter 9 Top Ten Highlights of My Career
9) Being promoted to Park Manager at York River and running my own park.
8) Catching a baby Emu (it was about 3 feet tall) running down the road at York River State Park. It turned out to be the neighbors and escaped out of a pen.
7) Working with the mentally challenged in Cleveland and again in helping with Special Olympics while at Fairy Stone State Park. Mentally challenged adults take changes hard and I remember my first week on the job at Cuyahoga County Board of Mental Retardation. I was cussed out by my crew non-stop, called every name in the book and they wouldn’t work for me. My last day on the job, 6 months later, they were all crying and begging me not to leave. The experiences were so humbling and I felt like I made a difference in their quality of life.
5) Working with school children during many programs. To see their eyes open wide as their minds say, “wow” always felt good.
4) Seeing “kids” I hired as seasonal workers, listen and learn and then watch them become Chief Rangers, Assistant Managers, Managers and Directors of other park systems. Sort of like raising your own children, you give them the best you got and hope they use it.
3) Gaining a second family made up of Park Employees. Wherever I worked I tried to make it more than just “work.” I tried to create a family-like atmosphere and had picnics, softball games, volleyball games, canoe trips, I even sat in a dunking booth and let my employees take their frustrations out and try to knock me in. Laughter and a smile are great gifts I gave away and I think in my career I was rewarded with a great return on my investment.
2) Knowing my Mom and Dad are proud of me. I think they have been down to visit me every year of my career in Virginia. And it seams whenever I went home throughout my career and met one of their friends, I was greeted usually by, “Oh the PARK RANGER in Virginia.” So I know they were bragging about me.
1) Several years back I surprised my nephew in Cleveland and went to his second grade class to do “special guest speaker” day. I was decked out in full Virginia State Park Ranger uniform and went in front of the class and the teacher said, “who would like to introduce our guest?” And there was silence…Again she said, “Who knows this speaker and would like to introduce him to the class?” More silence. I’m looking right at my nephew and he had this look on his face that said, I think it is Uncle Tom, but if it’s not, I’m going to look foolish in front of my friends. I thought for a moment the teacher was going to call security and remove me, but I finally said my nephew’s name and he ran up and hugged me. I received a lot of very nice thank you letters from that class that I keep to this day in my office. On my wall by my desk is the one from my nephew that says, “…sorry I didn’t know you for a moment…” The trip up there, the interaction with the children, the letters of appreciation, and my wonderful nephew’s reaction, all make up my favorite memory of a long career.