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Park ranger, 81, ready to call it quits

WAPPAPELLO, Mo. (AP) — Ira Tucker, at 81 the oldest park ranger in the Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Louis District, is bringing his career to a close despite the reluctance of co-workers who don’t want to see him go.

The Poplar Bluff Daily American Republic (http://bit.ly/14xhyUm) reports that Tucker is retiring after 26 years at Lake Wappapello in southeast Missouri, one of many jobs he has held.

Tucker’s association with Wappapello started long before his work there. He was a 9-year-old boy in 1941 when he attended the dedication of Wappapello Dam on a hot July day.

Colleagues and others who know Tucker praise his hard work, dedication and positive attitude.

Tucker is something of a jack of all trades. Farmer, insurance salesman, tax preparer, park ranger, teacher, magazine salesman and Army veteran are just some of the titles he’s held — sometimes three or four of them at a time.

“I’m a farmer at heart. It’s what I was raised as,” said Tucker, who worked on his family farm until the early 1980s. He still owns the 1945 tractor his father purchased new.

He has never taken a planned vacation. In retirement, his plans are simple: spend time with his wife, Parlee.

They married in 1965 and started at Puxico Elementary three years later — she managed the cafeteria.

Ira Tucker retired from teaching in 1998 after 30 years in the classroom. By then, he had already been working evenings and on weekends for the corps, patrolling the lake. He’d pick up a full schedule during the summer months.

His duties have varied. Years ago he helped create the Redman East campground, which has since grown from 20 spots to 109. The users have changed, too: Simple tents have been replaced by expensive motor homes that require heavy duty electrical hookups and sewer access.

“The electric then might have run a fan, an electric skillet, maybe a few lights. ... It has changed so much,” Tucker said on a recent day.

As a child, his family visited the lake often. As a teacher he brought classes to study leaves and bugs.

He is still “Mr. Tucker” to the other members of the staff, assistant project manager James Gracey said.

“The same sense of respect for him from his former students is evident when he sees them in the parks,” Gracey said. “Ira is a great asset to this team, and we will certainly miss his contributions here.”

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