Jerry Cornelius, 73, remembers camping at Governor Dodge State Park one year after the Cox Hollow dam was created in 1958.
About 15 years later, his wife, Pat, also 73, and their two children would travel from Madison to spend weekends camping here.
“After work some Fridays we’d say, ‘let’s go to Governor Dodge for the weekend,’” Pat Cornelius said.
That was then. Now Pat and Jerry spend the entire summer at the 5,350 acre park as volunteers doing what needs to be done, what the staff doesn’t have time to do, or simply what the Moline, Ill., couple see needs attention.
Earlier this fall they helped several employees clean up rocks from a mud slide. Mowing and trimming campsite yards, maintaining signs, checking trails, cutting fallen trees, removing parsnip, and yes, cleaning bathrooms are all part of the “job.”
On Oct. 5, Kathleen Gruentzel, park superintendent, joined David Borsecnik, Department of Natural Resources district park and recreation management supervisor, and several employees and friends, in presenting a plaque to these two volunteers of the year. This state-wide award comes from nominations by the state park system personnel.
This summer, May through September, marks the ninth year Pat and Jerry have been doing tasks to make Governor Dodge cleaner, look better, and more appealing to users from across the state and beyond.
“Your type of work is invaluable to the state parks,” Borsecnik said. “We don’t have the help we need to completely operate this and other state parks. We rely heavily on folks like you, Pat and Jerry. You go way above and beyond duty here.”
“And you’re super good people here and it makes it awfully enjoyable to do what we do. We really appreciate this award and plaque. We couldn’t do what we do without folks here at the park,” Jerry Cornelius said.
“You both have been a joy the full nine years you’ve been coming here. We don’t even have to tell you what to do; you just go out and do things you know need to be done. Many of these things we’d never get to,” Gruentzel said.
One of the main attractions at Gov. Dodge is the spring house, a “summer refrigerator” of sorts that dates back to when most of the park was farms. Pat and Jerry cleaned, cut brush and spiffed it up in so many ways so visitors appreciate. When some of the farm family relatives came to visit, they were speechless of how it now looked.
Jerry keeps a log of what he and Pat have done and turns it in to Gruentzel. Some months it’s three or four pages, Gruentzel said.
One memorable night, Pat and Jerry were on their computer and listening to the weather on the radio at their camp site when they heard a tornado warning for the area. They called the park office attendant, who was not aware and immediately everyone set out to alert campers and visitors.
The Cornelius’ were no doubt already thinking of what they would be doing the next morning.
Pat and Jerry started as Friends of the Park, continue to be members, and then became volunteers of the year. They help the friends group with tasks, too.
“It’s the enjoyment of being here,” Pat said, “the super people to work with and the super people visiting the park make us want to come back each summer.”
Jerry Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.