Park Mourns the Passing of Roger Reisch

Former employee Roger Reisch and his signature green truck.

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News Release Date: February 20, 2013

Contact: Karl Pierce, 915-828-3251 ext 2300

(Pine Springs, TX) Roger E. Reisch, the first employee at Guadalupe Mountains National Park passed away peacefully in Edmond, Oklahoma on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. He was 89. Roger Eugene Reisch was born in the Richmond Heights area of St. Louis, Missouri, on February 6, 1924. He was the second of five children of August and Hilda Reisch.

Roger enlisted into the United States Marine Corps as a radar operator on December 15, 1942, during World War II, reaching the rank of Technical Sergeant (E6). In February 1945, he was aboard the Carrier Escort USS Kalinin Bay (CVE-68). Roger served until November 29, 1945, then rejoined the Marine Corps on April 7, 1951 as a radar instructor. On April 8, 1952, Roger was reclassified to Inactive Reserve and was honorably discharged on June 18, 1952. He enlisted in the Marine Corps volunteer reserve in July 1952 as a Technical Sergeant. Roger did a stint as a temporary civilian Clerk with the U.S. Army from May 1, 1946 until August 23, 1946. 

In 1947, Roger enrolled in the University of Dayton, graduating in 1950 with degrees in English and History. His younger brother, Jack, roomed with him for a few years, while he was in college, and said that Roger tried some jobs after graduation, but he had always been an outdoorsman and really wanted to be outside. Roger would work the hay harvest in Kansas, then began his National Park Service career as a Seasonal Park Ranger (Historian) at Fort Laramie National Historic Site from June 1, 1959 until September 5, 1959 and a Seasonal Park Ranger at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument from November 15, 1959 until April 16 1960. 

On May 2, 1960, Roger received a Career-Conditional appointment as a Tour Leader at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. During his career with the National Park Service, he would work at Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Padre Island National Seashore, as the South Padre District Ranger from September 8, 1968 until April 19, 1969, returning to Carlsbad Caverns National Park on April 20, 1969, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park, where he is legendary and would become known as "Mr. Guadalupe Mountains," from December 28, 1969 until his retirement in 1998. 

Roger was a Park Ranger (Resource Management Specialist) at Carlsbad Caverns National Park at the time that Guadalupe Mountains National Park was established on September 30, 1972. He had such a good feel for the land, was skilled in backcountry foot and horse travel, and knew and understood the natural resources of Guadalupe Mountains National Park and in 1964 was asked to go to the new park to begin considering how the park should be available to the public. For several years, Roger was the only employee at Guadalupe Mountains National Park, which was administered by Carlsbad Caverns National Park until October 1987. On August 23, 1981, Roger moved to Dog Canyon, where he would be the Dog Canyon District Ranger until he retired. During his Park Service career, Roger held the positions of Tour Leader, Supervisory Tour Leader, Park Guide, Park Ranger, Supervisory Park Ranger, Management Assistant, Park Manager, Resource Management Specialist, District Ranger and Natural Resource Specialist. 

Roger had good relationships with all of the ranching families neighboring the park and, along with Guadalupe Mountains Ranch foreman Noel Kincaid, helped and guided visitors and did search and rescue. Mike Capron, who ran neighboring Nickel Creek Station and Aston Ligon Ranch, said that "all of the locals called the new park 'Roger's Ranch,'" and stated that Roger was "on call all day and night, always on duty and never missed a call." Capron described Roger as a "man of the outdoors" with a "quick laugh and short, witty wisdom." 

Roger worked diligently to protect the land, learn more about it, and help visitors appreciate its beauty and importance. Roger enjoyed the solitude of the new park, and loved the fact that the park did not have any through roads and was a hiking and horseback riding park, a characteristic of the park that remains to the present day. Roger pushed for the construction of a trail to the top of Guadalupe Peak to provide visitors with a safe and enjoyable hiking experience and to prevent them from becoming lost, as there were tricky and dangerous places on the old routes up to the peak. According to Dr. John Baker, former Wilderness Areas Task Force Chairman of the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society and former Chairman of the Citizen's Conservationist Wilderness Committee, "if you went the wrong way, you could find yourself in the dark on a cliff face." Roger's first priorities at the new park were resource management and care of the park. Although law enforcement was among his duties, Roger preferred to use education as his primary means of enforcing park regulations. Roger has been described as "a bridge between early and modern rangers" and is often described as a "ranger's ranger."

Guadalupe Mountains National Park was authorized by an act of Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on October 15, 1966. Don Dayton, who was Superintendent of Carlsbad Caverns National Park at the time Guadalupe Mountains National Park was formally established on September 30, 1972, originally wanted to designate Roger as the Area Manager of the new park. However, Roger refused that assignment, preferring to remain a field ranger rather than an administrator "tied to a desk". John Chapman would be brought in as the park's first Area Manager in 1971, and worked closely with Roger. By that time, Roger knew the park very well and, as he and Chapman hiked and rode the park, Roger had well-developed ideas on where public trails should be, where signs should go and where to establish designated backcountry campsites. Roger and Chapman made signs in the barn at Frijole Ranch, and worked led teams of seasonal employees to establish backcountry camping areas, install boundary fence, fight fires and patrol the park. Among his pioneering efforts at the park were conducting the park's first vegetation survey and resulting vegetation map, development of old land use information, such as the history of livestock grazing, through years of conversation with ranchers and field observation, and completion of basic inventories of park resources. 

Chapman described Roger as a good and strong man, and a "real" ranger, who "stayed on the ground, loved and learned the ground, and without the advantages of today's professional resource research or planning, just "knew" his area. Chapman stated that "Roger listened to people who came and studied [the park], and had the internal wisdom and common sense to come up with the best ways to protect and preserve the area for the long term." Roger spoke slowly and evenly-paced, and was straight forward in what he said. Roger would oversee several seasonal employees during the summer months, and Chapman described him as being a "very good mentor for young seasonals. Roger led them in the field and never asked them to do anything he would not, himself, do. He trained them and looked out for their well-being. At the end of a long day in the saddle working in the backcountry, Roger would often greet his charges with the horse trailer and refreshments." Chapman recalled Roger telling new seasonal employees, one year, that they should be proud that they had been selected to be National Park Rangers, and that he would treat them as 'men' and expect them to act like 'men' in return. He told them that they would be working long days, and that he would lead them and work as hard as they did, and that ' if that did not seem to them what they wanted, that perhaps this was not the best place for them.' He was firm, but fair, and the seasonal employees appreciated and worked very hard for him. 

In January 1966, Roger, along with Noel Kincaid, the foreman of J.C. Hunter's Guadalupe Mountains Ranch, Bob Burleson and Frank Tolbert, a writer for the Dallas Morning News, would guide Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas in the Guadalupes for Douglas' 1967 bestselling book Farewell to Texas: A Vanishing Wilderness.

As she was leaving Guadalupe Mountains National Park in February 1990, Superintendent Karen Wade, who went on to serve as the Intermountain Regional Director from October 1999 through August 2003, wrote to Roger, "you have been an inspiration to so many employees over the years that your impact is felt well beyond the boundaries of this park. The example you have set has molded and shaped several generations of park rangers and some of those have moved into top level leadership jobs in the organization. The ripple effect has magnified your impact to the point that doing your job well at Guadalupe is no longer the full extent of your achievement. Of inestimable value to any observant person is the example you set of personal integrity achieved through living and working for what you believe. Through this simple formula, you have achieved significance and stature well beyond what you may realize. And so, I now join those who have carried lessons from you away with them and put them to use elsewhere…Thanks for all the times you pushed for something to happen because it was the right thing to do for the resource. Thanks for all the times you responded in extraordinary ways to park visitors and reminded the rest of us what our most important job is. Thanks for loving this place so much that it encourages others to love it too." One such employee is current National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis who, in the early 1980s, was the Frijole District Ranger at Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Said Jarvis upon learning of Roger's passing, "he [Roger] was a classic old ranger and we all loved him." 

Roger was proud to be a National Park Ranger, himself, and was dedicated to his work. He owned two horses, Alejandro and Blackjack, which he always rode at the park because he trusted them, and was almost always seen on horseback. Roger bought tack for his horses and the three park horses, out of his own pocket, from a saddle maker he knew in El Paso, and never asked for reimbursement from the government. He drove his personal pickup for most park work, but never requested reimbursement for mileage or fuel. He would use it around Carlsbad after his retirement. In 1985, Roger, then stationed at Dog Canyon, submitted an award nomination to the park's Incentive Awards Committee for his "faithful assistant" for transplanting some native wild turkeys which had become "overly aggressive and bothersome to campers and picnickers" to an even remoter area of the park. The Incentive Awards Committee, after some deliberation and thought, unanimously recommended approval to Superintendent Bill Dunmire. The award nomination read 'I hereby put my horse, Alejandro, in for the Superintendent's Triple Cleaned Oats Award, '100 lbs.' On February 7, 1985, Alejandro carried me and three young turkeys up to our release site, some four miles out and up to the 8000-foot level. We rode through snow and mud all the way with no stumbles or falls and without tree bumping the birds in their burlap sacks. Upon reaching our goal, the turkeys were released in good shape. They are now another wonderful site to remember. Alejandro and I headed off the mountain to home feeling good about how things worked out for us. Without the horse, the job wouldn't have been done by one man. But with him, it was. So here is to the long line of good horses." 

Roger learned all of the ins and outs of the canyons, trails and pools, and the "secret" places of the Guadalupes, and was instrumental in the wilderness designation for Guadalupe Mountains National Park in 1978. Roger provided logistical support to Sierra Club and Wilderness Society sponsored trips into the park's backcountry, which brought policy makers and others to the Guadalupes to push for wilderness status and gain national publicity for the idea. Roger would haul water to them on horseback so that they could stay in the backcountry longer and served as a guide. Roger shared his insights with them regarding the Wilderness Area Proposal for the park. Roger would write the Wilderness Area Proposal, although he had it credited to Dr. John Baker, then Wilderness Areas Task Force Chairman of the Sierra Club and Wilderness Society and Bob Burleson, then Chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the National Park Service. 

Roger also was instrumental in the development of the master plan for Guadalupe Mountains National Park, advising Dr. Baker, who credited Roger's ideas as being reflected in comments he presented as Chairman of the Citizen's Conservationist Wilderness Committee. 

On July 28, 1989, Roger was awarded the Department of the Interior Meritorious Service Award by Secretary Manuel Lujan, Jr. in recognition of his contributions to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and for his legacy of stewardship to the National Park Service. The citation stated, in part, "Mr. Reisch's career exemplifies meritorious devotion to park resources protection…Mr. Reisch has brought and continues to bring to the job not only his dedication and enthusiasm for the park and its resources, but a history acquired over many years. This history has accumulated and been passed along to all who have worked at Guadalupe since its establishment. Through his intimate exposure to every inch of the mountains of the Guadalupes, Mr. Reisch has learned about the geography, history, plants and animals - the foundation for present day resource management efforts…These and many other projects would have taken much longer to accomplish without Mr. Reisch's in-depths knowledge of the area, its culture and its people. For his dedication to Guadalupe Mountains National Park and for his legacy of stewardship to all past, present and future park employees, Roger E. Reisch is granted the Meritorious Service Award of the Department of the Interior." 

Roger retired from the National Park Service as a Natural Resource Specialist on May 2, 1998 and relocated to St. Louis, Missouri where he lived with sisters Geraldine "Geri" Reisch and the late Marian Reisch. He and sister Geri moved to Edmond, Oklahoma in 2012. Roger is survived by his brother, Jack Reisch, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and sisters Geraldine Reisch, of Edmond, Oklahoma and Joann Liebermann, of Providence, Rhode Island. A funeral Mass will be held on Thursday, Feburary21, in Edmond, Oklahoma, and internment will take place on Tuesday, February 26 in St. Louis, Missouri. At the request of the family, Roger will be buried in full National Park Service dress uniform.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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