LAKE SHETEK - He had swapped his usual tan uniform for a T-shirt proclaiming, "I'm Retired." But Lake Shetek State Park Manager Kerry Christoffer was still in familiar territory on Tuesday afternoon, talking with visitors at the park's group center. Although he's stepping down from a 37-year career with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Christoffer said some things won't change for him.
"I'm going from working with people to working with people," Christoffer said. Starting this month, he will be working as a care pastor at Community Bible Church in Montevideo.
After starting work with the DNR in 1975, Christoffer has been a ranger or manager at a long list of state parks, including Monson Lake, Camden, Lac qui Parle, Big Stone and Lake Shetek. He has also assisted during special activities in other parks.
Photo by Deb Gau
Lake Shetek State Park Manager Kerry Christoffer talked with Loren Richardson during a farewell reception at the park Tuesday. Christoffer is retiring after 37 years of working in Minnesota state parks.
A good-sized group of people gathered at the park on Tuesday for a reception honoring Christoffer and long-time parks worker Jay Takle, who is also retiring this spring. Visitors ranged from park volunteers and current staff members to past supervisors and friends.
"My old baseball coach is here," Christoffer said, after greeting Jim and Mary Muchlinski. "That was a very nice surprise."
Christoffer has seen a lot of change in Minnesota's state parks throughout the years, including things like park ranger housing. When he started working at Monson Lake State Park in 1977, Christoffer said, park rangers lived in cabins in on park property. Christoffer and his wife Lyn were no exception, and their children also grew up around the parks.
"That was where we lived," Lyn Christoffer said, pointing out a cabin in the background of a family photo from Monson Lake. "And about half of that was garage."
Throughout the years, technology has become more important for park management, and campsites now have more amenities for visitors, Kerry Christoffer said. Two big achievements in his career have been helping to develop campsites at Lac qui Parle and Lake Shetek state parks. At Lake Shetek, the work included the renovation of one of the park's most popular, but outdated, campsite areas and the creation of a new campground nearby. The Lake Shetek campground was one of the biggest projects using Legacy Act funds in the state, said Jeff Sieve of the DNR regional office in New Ulm.
"Kerry is one of the most dedicated park rangers I've ever worked with," Sieve said. "He bleeds green."
However, Christoffer said he also had to give credit to the park staff and volunteers he's worked with.
"They don't make it good, they make it better," Christoffer said.
The Christoffers moved to the Montevideo area earlier this spring, where Lyn works at Lac qui Parle Valley State Park and Kerry can be closer to Community Bible Church. Kerry Christoffer said he felt both his work for the DNR and his new work in ministry were answering a call to service.
"Only now, I don't have to be politically correct, I can just be truthful," he added, laughing.
There was a lot of hard work that went with his parks career, and little time off, Christoffer noted. However, he said his experiences have been worth it.
"I'm glad of it. And now I'm moving on to the next thing, and I'm glad of it," he said.