Posts in category 2019

Wendy Ross: Naturally, An Outdoor Woman

Wendy Ross

By Stephanie Fong | Photos by Rachael Neva Photo | Published in Inspired Woman Magazine, July 2019

The American naturalist and author Enos Mills wrote, “Within National Parks is room — glorious room — room in which to find ourselves, in which to think and hope, to dream and plan, to rest and resolve.” His words seem to be written for Wendy Ross, a woman whose entire life is virtually woven into the fabric of our national parks.

Wendy, the superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park since 2015, regularly immerses herself into the glorious room that is the North Dakota Badlands to recharge her batteries, ponder her challenges, and grow her dreams for the national park under her care.

BORN INTO SERVICE

Wendy has been surrounded by the beauty of our national parks her entire life — her father was a climbing ranger at Mount Rainier National Park near Tacoma, Washington, when she was born. From there, her father’s career took the family to Grand Teton, Yosemite, and eventually Cape Cod National Seashore. When her parents relocated to the Great Smoky Mountains toward the end of her high school career, she was allowed to stay with family friends at Cape Cod through graduation. Whatever park she and her family were living at, volunteering within the parks was a big part of her youth.

“I volunteered through all of my high school years,” Wendy shares.

She participated in such projects as beach grass revegetation and fish studies for anoxic conditions.

“Anything that was a scientific research paper or project, I was involved in,” Wendy says.

In a time when national park employees were more often male than female, two strong female mentors, both resource management specialists, helped spark her interests and inspire career goals.

“They really showed me how cool it was to get outside and get dirty and do things like trap mosquitoes for different disease testing or look at Lyme disease on Cape Cod,” Wendy says.

Her natural scientific tendencies and childhood experiences led her to major in arctic and alpine biology at Middlebury College in Vermont. After graduation, she began a lifelong career in government service. First, with a two-year commitment to the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka followed by 25 years (and counting) with the national park service.

Starting at the entrance station at Yellowstone National Park, she grew her experience and responsibilities at each new park she was assigned — from Shiloh National Military Park to North Cascades National Park, from Glacier National Park to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, and eventually Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

She smiles at the thought of her work out in the field in her earlier assignments.

“I’d do so much hiking. I love to be outside. At North Cascades, I was doing grazing studies out on backcountry trails, flood studies, and large-scale landform mapping.”

Even her memories of national events are shaped by where the parks have taken her.

“I was actually in the wilderness of North Cascades for a week, and 9/11 happened. We were in the flyway between Seattle and Minneapolis, and you would see contrails constantly when we’d be out camping, and all of a sudden, no airplanes. It was the most surreal thing. Silent. We came out of the back country a week later, and my husband met us at the trailhead and told us what happened. We had no clue.”

COMING FULL CIRCLE

During her college years, Wendy’s father became the superintendent at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). From 1990-1995, he lived and worked in Medora, North Dakota.

After her junior year of college, raw from a breakup with a boyfriend, Wendy spent the summer in Medora hiking and biking the Badlands.

“I healed my broken heart, volunteered in the park, and had a great time,” she recalls with a chuckle.

Life moved on, and so did she — growing her career and moving up in levels of responsibility. Some 25 years later, she was thrilled to be named superintendent of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a place she sees as a true treasure and a source of endless possibilities.

Having lived and worked in so many of our national parks, TRNP still stands out to Wendy as uniquely wonderful.

She points out one of her favorite wonders as the sudden change from grassland to Badlands near the Painted Canyon Visitor Center along Interstate 94.

“That drive from Dickinson into the Badlands — for me, every time, ‘falling off the edge of the earth’ there into the Badlands — is one of the experiences that never fails to surprise me.

“Here, the landscape is constantly in motion. It is constantly changing. You never know what you’re going to encounter,” Wendy adds.

She also knows how valuable and unique the lack of crowding is for TRNP and its visitors. While many of the park’s 700,000+ annual visitors traditionally drive the paved loop, Wendy recommends a different route.

“I would encourage people to get off the beaten path, either on a trail or off a trail, because this is one of the few parks in which you can actually go off trail. You can go with horses; you can hike,” Wendy says. “You come over horizons and you encounter scenery and you wonder when the last time people last saw that.”

She describes winter as an incredible time to visit the park.

“People think we’re closed in the wintertime, but we’re open all year, 24/7. One of my favorite things to do is to ski on the river with two inches of snow on the (frozen) river — that’s all you need on the river to ski.”

Asked if she has a favorite spot to visit in TRNP, her eyes light up as she declares, “I really don’t! Every day, every condition, every different kind of light — it’s all magical. And it extends for me to the larger Badlands area outside the park. There’s a lot of country to get lost in, and there’s so much history here.”

A SEED-PLANTER OF IDEAS

There is something about Wendy that shows she is completely comfortable in her own skin. As she approaches her 50th birthday this fall, she says she loves the place she is in her life.

“When I was in grade school, maybe 8 or 9 years old, I had these goals in my life: to go to Middlebury College, become a resource management specialist in the national park system, go to Alaska, and go into the Peace Corps, and I did all of those things before I was 30. It was really goal-oriented up until then.

“I’ve definitely evolved. I’m dream-oriented,” Wendy says. “I love to think about the big picture. I’ve come into this place in my life where I love to move to new places and look at huge-scale — I’m talking ecosystem-scale — possibilities. ‘What can be done in this place that has never been done before and what is something that is so universally huge that nobody else would even think about going there?’ Those are the kinds of challenges that move me now.”

Wendy didn’t always dream of being a park superintendent, but her excitement for relationship-building, the art of listening, and showing respect to everyone has naturally led her into a leadership role.

As superintendent, Wendy is tasked with taking care of the park’s resources, taking care of her staff, and leveraging the park’s partnerships.

She considers herself a seed-planter of ideas, giving the framework and encouragement to the many entities at play in Western North Dakota to create a future that benefits everyone.

“Western North Dakota is an ecosystem of recreation and resource protection,” Wendy says. “With the energy industry poised to produce two million gallons per day, and the communities having grown the way they have grown — Dickinson, Williston, Watford City, even Medora — I feel that Western North Dakota is in this place where we can rethink our relationship with the earth and how we recreate with the earth, how we use the earth, how we live in communities and how we expand our values to the larger ecosystem. TRNP is right at the core of that, as a core protected area.”

Wendy recognizes the value each cultural and economic group brings to our region.

“There are various different uses outside of our core protected area that are all relevant, all necessary, all exciting. And there’s so much collaboration potential there that if we all worked in different ways, I think we could have a model in Western North Dakota that’s not been seen anywhere else in the world.”

CHALLENGES IN TODAY’S NATURAL PARKS

With three distinct units and 70,000 acres, challenges facing Wendy and other park leadership today range from the practical to the big-picture. They plan long-term solutions for issues like managing genetic diversity within their bison population, proactively anticipating what chronic wasting disease could do to the elk herd and park resources, and working with an erosive landscape (an example just this year is having to close off a portion of the park loop drive due to the massive slumping that destroyed a stretch of road.)

But, from Wendy’s big-picture mindset, the biggest challenge today is successfully reconciling the dual mission of the national park service.

“The National Park Service was created to protect and preserve the natural and cultural resources for this and future generations,” Wendy explains, “So, there’s a resource protection mandate, and it’s for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.”

Part of her role at TRNP, then, is constantly assessing and analyzing what the public wants, whether that means more hikeable trails, more ranger-led programs, or more collaborations with community organizations and educational institutions.

And beyond what people say they want in surveys, Wendy also reflects on what people deeply need that our national parks can offer.

“Fundamentally, whether they know it or not, people are looking for the same exact same thing. They’re looking for a beautiful place. They’re looking for an experience they’ve never had before in a place that’s a little outside of their comfort zone, whether that’s going on a mile hike when you don’t usually hike, or going on a really strenuous backpacking trip.

“But I think people are also looking for solace — a place to lose oneself.”


Stephanie (Tinjum) Fong is a North Dakota native. She worked in Medora for a decade, first during her college summer breaks, and then on a year-round basis for seven years. She now lives in Dickinson with her husband and children, and they love to visit Medora several times a year.

This article has been re-published from inspiredwomanonline.com

Teddy’s Bear

By Hannah Kroll | Medora, ND

It’s National Teddy Bear Picnic Day today!

The little teddy bear holiday might not be widely practiced elsewhere, but we at Medora love to celebrate these history-stuffed toys. You can probably guess why. The link between the teddy bear and Teddy Roosevelt runs deep. For those who have not yet heard the tale, let’s take a trip back to 1902 – a hunting trip with our 26th president Theodore Roosevelt.

By this time, Roosevelt already experienced the rugged ranching scene of our Badlands. Now, after enduring the rugged political scene as president, he set out for a much-needed break – bear hunting. For five days in the Mississippi heat, Roosevelt and his party searched for his prize. Day after day, he lumbered back to camp without a shot. Poor Teddy! His hunting venture was not as successful as his political campaign. To make matters worse, he had allowed reporters to visit his camp, and stories of his failed hunt could be read in the newspapers.

One particular report, however, turned the hunting trip into history.

It was the day when Roosevelt finally found his bear. He was at camp and one of his friends called for him. The friend had cornered a bear and was holding out for Roosevelt to come and claim it. Roosevelt came. He found the bear, a small creature, kept at bay in the river by the hunting hounds. It had been lassoed with rope and knocked on the head with a rifle. The ragged animal was alive but sat as a dazed and easy target. Roosevelt took in the scene. This hardly resembled fair game, and it certainly did not live up to the ethical standards expected of hunters and conservationists. Just moments before, TR had scrambled for a chance to bag his bear, now he refused and turned away.

Drawing the Line in Mississippi
Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, Washington Post, November 16, 1902.

Reports of the story hit the press. A front-page cartoon in the Washington Post showed President Roosevelt, rifle in hand, walking away from a sad little bear. Audiences loved it. It inspired a toyshop owner in New York. Soon, a line of stuffed bears nicknamed “Teddy’s Bear” popped off the shelves and into the arms of American children.

Now, over 100 years later, teddy bears comfort children and adults in homes around the world. It seems the classic toy’s popularity has outgrown that of the man whose name it honors.

For many of us, teddy bears mark the passages of our personal history. My first bear was a big white one that I unwrapped under the Christmas tree years ago. We were friends for a long time. One of my favorite things was to brandish her like a club and chase after my cousin whose name was – in fact – Theodore. But we sometimes called him “Teddy Bear.”

What connections do you share with these memorable toys? What is your “Teddy Bear” history?


P.S. If you’d like to read about Roosevelt’s bear hunt for yourself, try a visit to Western Edge Books. Theodore Rex by Edmund Morris writes a captivating account of the story.

Research source: Morris, Edmund. Theodore Rex. Random House Trade Paperbacks, Random House Inc., 2001, pp. 170-174

Interview with TRMF Business Member, Railway Credit Union

We sat down with Railway Credit Union President, Paul Brucker to get his thoughts on what Medora has done for his company, creating a workplace people want to work at, and what he learned from his parents.

Paul Brucker, President of Railway Credit Union


Paul, why join the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation Business Membership Program?

Being a patriotic ND based business, Railway Credit Union (RCU) initially joined the TR Medora Foundation because it seemed like the right thing to do.

It was not until later that we realized the benefits that the membership provided to our credit union members, staff, and volunteers.

It has been a great benefit to be able to send four folks to the musical every night throughout the season.  We have also used the golf passes as a thank you to our credit union volunteers who enjoy golf. 

How was the program received by your employees and customers?

Our employees, volunteers and members have all enjoyed the opportunity to attend the Medora Musical as a benefit of being a part of our credit union family as RCU is a member of the Foundation. 

We have also hosted bus trips for our Senior Express Club at the credit union. It is always one of our most popular destinations and a great goodwill experience for being a part of our credit union’s Senior Express Club. 

Any noticeable benefits?

Visiting Medora and attending the many wonderful events is like stepping back in time while getting back out in nature amidst the badlands.  It is always a patriotic, refreshing and rewarding experience that everyone looks forward to while recharging their work & life batteries.

Railway Credit Union teammates enjoying a day of fun!


Now for a little more about Railway Credit Union. What should people know about RCU that they can’t find out on your website?

We are a financial family striving to build individual solutions for all of our members to lead them to achieve financial success while enriching their lives.

From what I’ve seen and heard, you have a great company culture. Why prioritize this?

At RCU we work hard and we play hard.  We are always looking forward to some fun team-building activities to blow off a little steam and have some fun.  We did hold a staff “goofy” Olympic competition that we had broadcast over our web site. It was awesome and drew a huge audience.

We gotta hear a little about you personally. What’s the best lesson your parents taught you?

Honesty, Integrity, and hard work can carry you a long way in life.

Is there a set back in your life that set you up for your future success?

I had an issue with my hip that landed me in a wheelchair and on crutches for a year around 1st grade. 

This threw me head first into adversity and social challenges, as I had to figure out how to deal with that and still try to be a normal kid.  Fortunately, my hip healed over time, and I learned a lot about life through those lessons during the process.

What was it like to lead the merger with Genie-Watt Credit Union?

A business merger is like a marriage, you need a lot of upfront honesty, transparency, and hard work to make it work successfully.  If things digress and you end up with an us vs them situation, trouble will soon follow. 

We have been fortunate to have had many successful mergers that have greatly expanded RCU’s footprint in the Bismarck – Mandan area over that past 10 years.

This summer, we’ll share this conversation with over 300 seasonal employees from all over the world — many of them on the cusp of joining the workforce. Any advice?

Find something you enjoy doing or discover what is your life’s passion.  Chase it hard through your education, then on into the work world.  Once there, realize the only way to move forward in your career path is through honesty and a driven work ethic. 

Go above and beyond the minimum requirements your job calls for. Realize there is no one there waiting to anoint you to the next coming executive. This is only achieved through what you bring to the table each and every day through hard work.

Thanks for taking the time to talk, Paul. If you want to learn more about becoming a Business Member like Railway Credit Union get ahold of Annual Giving Director, Daniel Gannarelli at danialg@medora.com or 701.223.4800

Want to learn more about Railway Credit Union, check out their website here and their Facebook Page here!

Get to Know Your TRMFamily

Meet Annual Personal Members, Char and Duey Marthaller

With over 1,200 Annual Personal and Business Members, the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation is a large family. So large that many of you may have never met another Annual Member.

As a “family that values family”, we can’t let this stand! Which is why we invite you to sit down and get to know Char and Duey Marthaller of Mandan, ND.

Besides being Annual Members since 2012, Char and Duey have shared their wood working talents on a number of Medora projects. Most recently they refurbished the Sheila Schafer Wishing Well in 2017 (pictured above).

Their passion for Medora inspires our staff of over 350 each and every summer. Get to know this wonderful couple below.

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