By Lisa Esquivel Long
FORT WAYNE — Some people may enjoy Fox Island so much that it’s a second home for them. For park and education manager Ron Zartman, it really was home for more than 30 years.
After 33 years of working as an Allen County Parks naturalist, superintendent and, finally, as manager at Fox Island County Park, Zartman decided it was time to retire earlier this year.
Fox Island and Metea county parks volunteers celebrated his retirement at the annual volunteer appreciation dinner March 7 at Fox Island, 7324 Yohne Road.
Zartman, 62, who’s from Fort Wayne, said he felt lucky when he got the naturalist job in November 1985.
“Most people have to move to get a naturalist job,” said Zartman, who retired Jan. 25.
At that time, the parks offices and nature center space was where the Vera Dulin Wildlife Observation Building is today.
“The nature center was all pine trees,” he said.
The current nature center was opened in 1997.
Zartman started living at the 605-acre park in 1986. The Fox Island Alliance ran the cross-country skiing rentals, which were very popular, before the county parks department took over the responsibility.
“There was less paid help and lots of volunteer hands,” Zartman said.
“Ron had a long career here at Allen County Parks, most of it before my time,” said Jeff Baxter, superintendent of Allen County Parks. “I knew him back when I worked at (Fort Wayne) Parks but more as a business associate.”
With so many years at the park, Zartman has seen numerous visitors.
“There are many many school kids he led hikes for,” Baxter said, “and just like a teacher who has taught for many years he probably has led hikes for kids of kids he led hikes for when they were little. He was wonderful at leading kids on hikes and they all loved him from what I could see. They’d color him thank-you notes and pictures, and he’d keep them up for years. Ron didn’t throw away a lot, never those.”
They didn’t always see eye to eye, but each worked to do what was best for the park.
“I was raised up as a Parkie (more maintenance sided),” Baxter said. “He was more the naturalist (or Reckie (recreation) as we called it at Fort Wayne Parks.”
Zartman had a couple of interesting run-ins with deer over the years at the park.
“I had a close encounter with triplets, three fawns,” he said.
The three wobbly babies were playing in a water puddle.
“Finally, one stood by me and nuzzled me,” he said. “I couldn’t help but reach down and pet it.”
The other encounter was a little less pleasant, and more reminiscent of “Alien.” Zartman said he had seen the body of a deer that had been hit on Yohne Road.
“I went back one day and all of a sudden out popped this bloody possum.”
He and his wife, Rita, got married at the park 10 years ago this year and are now living in a home that she had before their marriage. It’s been an adjustment for him to have neighbors again.
“We’ve looked at retiring for awhile and figured we could,” he said.
Looking back, he credits the help he got over the years.
“I’ve been helped and assisted by the alliance and volunteers,” he said.
Baxter expected to announce Zartman’s replacement soon. The home will likely be occupied by the park’s maintenance worker, he said.