After 55 Summers, Wind Cave Ranger Hangs Up His Hat

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Seasonal park ranger Don Frankfort is retiring after working 55 summers at Wind Cave National Park. He began his ranger career in 1967, and since then he estimates he led more than 100,000 people through the cave.
   
“My favorite place is the visitor center’s information desk, Frankfort said. “I want to be the first person to greet the visitors coming in the door.”   

His life changed from a chance encounter with a park ranger at Carlsbad Caverns while on a family trip in 1962. His mother happened to ask a park ranger about his job, and the ranger replied that he was a seasonal employee. Years later, when he was looking for a summer job, Frankfort remembered that encounter and that the National Park Service hired summer workers.    

Having grown up in New York City, he wanted to explore a classic western national park with mountains, waterfalls, and open spaces. He applied to ten parks, but the only response he received was a telegram from the Superintendent at Wind Cave National Park offering him a job for the summer of 1967. He planned to stay a year.    

One summer turned into two, then three. Eventually he would meet his wife, Kim Mogen, a fellow ranger, and it later turned into a family affair when his son, Sam, and future daughter-in-law, April, also worked as seasonals at the park. But after 55 summers, and reaching his 78 birthday, he decided it was time to retire.     

“I’m going to miss the people I’ve worked with the most,” said Frankfort. “There is a real sense of community here. It was especially noticeable during my early summers when I lived in park housing with the same neighbors year after year. Every unit in the National Park System has stories of meaning and significance to be told. I’m going to miss telling those stories of the significance of Wind Cave National Park to the visiting public.”   

There will be a brief retirement ceremony before he gives his last evening campfire program at 8 p.m. on Saturday, September 2, at the park’s Elk Mountain Campground.