A friendship worth remembering

FORMER WATOGA STATE Park Superintendent Richard Dale, above, recently visited the park to see the bench that was installed in his honor by Jim and Judy Meads, of Glenville. The Meads, when a young married couple, lived at the park in the late 1960s when Jim was the park’s naturalist. Photo courtesy of Rose Clark

Jaynell Graham

A bench, given by Jim and Judy Meads, of Glenville, has been placed in front of the Watoga State Park administration building to honor former park superintendent Richard Dale, who served there from 1966 to 1975.

Jim Meads was the park’s naturalist for a few of those years.

“A little bit of kindness goes a long way,” Dale said. “When Jim and Judy got married, they were living in a camper at the park. I had them move in above the office. They remembered that all this time, and appreciated it.”

Jim and Judy attended Dale’s 94th birthday party last year.

“It was the first I’d seen them in a while,” Dale said. “They told me they were having a bench made.”

Dale’s family took him to Watoga in August to see the bench and to have his photo taken with it.

Dale has a lot of stories from his 32 years with the state park system, and a lot of them are from Watoga. He remembers Jim finding a red-tail hawk between Seebert and the park. It had been hit by a car, but was just stunned. Jim said it would respond to kindness. And it did. Jim named the hawk Garth, and it became a part of the park landscape, stealing hamburgers and getting burned, and catching blue-gills, only to have one whisked away by an eagle. It was a good life for a hawk, until Jim left – then Garth moved on, as well.

Dale will be 95 October 30, and his life has run the gamut of experiences.

Graduating high school in 1943, the 18 year old soon found himself in Navy boot camp at Great Lakes, Illinois. Moving on from there, he enjoyed a “cruise” through the Panama Canal – but did not enjoy being in the middle of a typhoon in Okinawa.

“The typhoon was the worst thing I have ever been through,” Dale said.

His time in the service put him on the front line of history, as his ship was the first into Nagasaki after the A-bomb was dropped.

“There was nothing there but rubble,” he said.

Ten years after discharge from the service, in 1956, Dale got his first state park assignment, going to work at Babcock State Park. In his 32-year career, he was also assigned to Cedar Creek, Holly River, Watoga for 9 1/2 years, Audrey, Cass for 8 1/2 years and Prickett’s Fort.

“I’ve been blessed with a lot more than I deserve,” Dale said, “and I’m thankful every day.

“I asked the Lord to make me a kind person.”

For Jim and Judy Meads to dedicate a bench in his honor, more than 50 years after Dale showed them that “little bit of kindness,” it would be fair to say that Dale can put a checkmark in the answered prayer box.

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