Park Manager Gerald Ives
Park Service Profiles
Living His Dream Through Stewardship
It was a gift of gab, love of nature and a chance encounter with a park ranger during vacation that made Jerry Ives leave it all to follow his dream. It was during those camping years and meeting park rangers that he thought being a ranger must be the “coolest job in the world.”
Born in Wisconsin, Ives’ family moved to Phoenix, Az., for six years then to Louisville, Ky., where he completed high school and went to college. As a youth, Ives spent most of his days outdoors enjoying the sports of hunting, fishing and camping with his parents. It was during those camping years and meeting park rangers that he thought being a ranger must be the “coolest job in the world.”
A career test in high school confirmed his best choices were forest ranger or business communication. With a gift for gab and encouragement from friends to use that gift, Jerry put his dream of being a ranger on hold to pursue communications at both Eastern and Western Kentucky universities.
While in college, Ives’ father got a promotion and his parents moved to Columbia, SC. During a December holiday break, he visited, it was 70 degrees. He was hooked.
In 1984 he moved to South Carolina permanently and decided to further his education through work. He tried the restaurant business which led him to his wife, Angela, a nursing student who was working as a waitress. They married within a year. Jerry moved from restaurants to a career in retail management and started a family. “I was working my way up the ladder with a retail company, doing well and the future was bright. I was 33 years old, had a beautiful wife, two wonderful kids and a great job,” Ives said. “But I still had the dream.”
And for Ives, it was a powerful dream. On a beautiful fall day in 1996 while vacationing at Hickory Knob State Resort Park in McCormick, Ives was enjoying the sun set from the fishing dock. “What a beautiful place,” I thought. “It was picture perfect.” At about that time, a park ranger walked down the ramp to check on him. A pleasant conversation ensued. The ranger told Ives how he enjoyed working in such a beautiful place and what he did. But what struck Ives most was the ranger’s closing comment. “He said the neat thing about his job was the park. He looked out over the lake and said ‘This park is my office’”
It was at that moment, in the quiet setting of Lake Thurmond, that Ives decided to follow his dream: “I said a little prayer, gathered up my gear, went back to the cabin and asked my wife if she’d hate me for following my dream.” Apparently it was just fine. Ives quit his job and the family moved to Florence, SC, so he could pursue a degree in Natural Resources Management. The rest is history.
Ives started his state parks career at Hunting Island. He’s worked at Jones Gap, was assistant park manager at Myrtle Beach where he says all the action is, and was promoted to park manager for Sesquicentennial in Columbia.
After a couple of years he returned to Myrtle Beach as that park’s manager where he supervises a staff of 43. “I am a motivator, mentor, psychologist, friend and disciplinarian all rolled into one. The key to my job and my success all comes down to how well the staff does their job. When they fail, I fail. When they are successful, I will be the same,” Ives said.
Satisfaction for Ives comes in seeing millions of park visitors having fun, enjoying the park and leaving happy. He said it gives him a sense of pride to know his staff played a role in providing such an experience to so many. He said, “On a busy weekend when I see so many people using the park, I know we’ve done our jobs.”
“As a ranger, just when you think you’ve seen it all, boom!!! The day brings you something new.”
Rangers encounter a lot of situations while doing their jobs and the experiences are varied - like the time Ives was on bike patrol and spotted a group riding horses in a restricted area. He got their attention then hit a sandy spot, lost his balance and fell off the bike. “It wouldn’t have been so bad, but I had sand burrs sticking to me from head to toe … ouch! It’s hard to talk to a visitor when you’re in pain and embarrassed at the same time,” Ives concluded.
With the laughter comes the pain, however, and Ives has seen his share. One of the hardest was the death of a biker who raced into the park at 70 mph, hit a tree and died from massive head trauma.
Trauma aside, for Ives, working at a state park is fun no matter where you are, and he doesn’t hesitate to share his experience with visitors. “I tell them it’s every job you could ever imagine all rolled into one. It’s never boring. When I wake up each day I thank the Lord for my life and wonder what the day will bring. As a ranger, just when you think you’ve seen it all, boom!!! The day brings you something new.”
It’s this indomitable spirit that keeps the adrenalin pumping in Jerry Ives who is truly living his life’s dream. He summed up his job saying it’s “Living life to the fullest through stewardship and service and feeling the satisfaction that what we do is very important.
Jerry has since been promoted to the position of Regional Chief for the Coastal Region.