“But Roger, why did you tell that principal that we have that program? We haven’t done that before!”
“Well,” he responded, “You could do it, right? You and your staff could offer that, couldn’t you? If that’s what it would take to have a new school come to Woodland Altars, why not say ‘Yes’ and then go put it together?”
I had not operated that way before, and yet, what he was saying made sense. It was that kind of thinking that helped me, in my two years as Program Director at the Woodland Altars Outdoor Education Center in southern Ohio, book more schools for residential programs than had ever been there before. With Roger Cruser’s encouragement, my new staff and I did all sorts of things we hadn’t done before, including host a weekend workshop for local teachers and do outreach programs for the local schools. The students loved our show-and-tell visits to their classrooms with a boa constrictor and a red-tailed hawk. Although animals were quite familiar to these rural kids, most of them had never met people who weren’t killing hawks and snakes, but revering them!
Roger was a fun and inspiring director to work for because he enjoyed, or at least acted like he enjoyed, us young, opinionated teacher-naturalists talking for hours about all our ideas for the camp. He had been hired as the first resident director of the 500-acre camp to breathe life into the programs and make the place a year-round asset for the Church of the Brethren who owned the property. He had so many ideas and the business sense to get things done.
One time that stands out for me that Roger gave me a new perspective was when two of my staff quit on the last day before Christmas break. They had been hired by the previous director and stayed to work with me. As I was just strengthening my spine as a director, they were challenging me on policies I had. One of those was to mix up the groups of three naturalists to do evening programs. Well, these two insisted that I always let them work together in the evenings so they could always have the same nights off. I wouldn’t do that.
As the Fall season developed, they grew a list of grievances they kept secret until that final day. Just before lunch, as we cleaned out the last mouse cage and stacked up the last worksheet, they handed me letters of resignation. I took it personally, and felt abandoned! “Now what would we do! That would leave us short-handed for the upcoming Spring season which I had so masterfully filled!”
I dashed into Roger’s office and gave him the news. His response, to my surprise, was, “That’s great! What good news!” I stared, not understanding. “Let me take you to lunch in town, and we’ll talk about it,” he said confidently. Over lunch, he explained his perspective that their leaving opened space for two fresh staff whom I could choose myself. New people could bring new allegiance and openness to the way Woodland Altars currently functioned. Certainly, it would add some work for my holiday break, but it could also be satisfying. As usual, he was right, and the two men named Dave who joined our staff the next month were delightful assets to the staff, the camp, and to my life!
There were many, many creative moments shared with Roger over the next couple of years until the most celebrated one when he officiated my wedding on the makeshift platform where Karla and Larry had been married the year before. He gladly supported me and John Reiter in writing our own vows, and respectfully turned his head when my relatives brought beer to the woodland reception we hosted on the far side of the camp.
In the 30+ years of our marriage with John Reiter, he offered continued counsel and perspective to me and John. The last time the three of us sat together in his living room in the house he had built one mile from camp, Roger listened compassionately as John lobbied for me to renew our vows during a family reunion that had interrupted my 6-month walk of the Pacific Crest Trail. I believe that Roger could see that divorce was more imminent than either of us could admit, and he wisely withheld judgment or advice.
Roger’s creative, confident guidance has consistently served me, stretching my own limits for leadership. I’m grateful for that!