“Mini-Gary” Learns From Dad, Strives To Forge Her Own Path

By Deborah Locke, DNR Information Officer




When little Grace Hoeft was five, her dad Gary occasionally took Grace and her sister to work at Tettegouche State Park in northeastern Minnesota where the little girls helped count postcards or swept and vacuumed the floors.

“At work they did something dull,” Gary said from his retirement home in Arizona. “We raised them so they were outdoors a lot, hiking and camping.”

Grace said she pleaded with her dad, who was Tettegouche State Park assistant park manager, to take her to work more often. “I was called a mini-Gary or the world’s biggest little helper,” she said.  Today Grace is assistant park manager at Tettegouche, Temperance River and George H. Crosby Manitou state parks, fulfilling a goal set when she was a small child. Gary was N.W. regional manager with the Parks and Trails Division before retirement.

“I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” Grace said. Eighteen months ago, while working as an operations supervisor at Gooseberry Falls State Park, she received the Tettegouche job offer, accepted, and immediately called Gary with the news. Dad was overjoyed.

“I knew she could do it,” he said. Grace calls Gary about a variety of matters that arise at work including some personnel matters. “I don’t tell her what to do. I help her find a path out,” he said. “I help her find options. She’s strong and handles management challenges very well.”

Grace’s dad did pass along useful advice through the years. When Grace was a night security intern at Tettegouche, and Gary worked at Jay Cooke State Park as park manager, he told her to always clean the trucks at the end of her shift and be sure the tanks were full of gas. So that’s what she did.

Grace noted that Gary could be stern when he needed to be but had an effective way of treating people. He was the “perfect supervisor,” she said, because he knew how to navigate between being a boss and being a friend.

“That’s something I am actively trying to figure out with my own life,” she said. “How to be approachable and how to be direct and respected. People listen to and respect my dad. Maybe part of that is the fact that he’s six feet nine.”

Father and daughter agree that the best way to succeed as a park administrator is to be fully dedicated to the work, and the best thing about park work is just being outside.

“There’s a spiritual thing about working in the outdoors, even if you’re not religious,” Gary said. “You are rooted to the earth with a common bond that’s really important.”

Added Grace, “My favorite part is getting away from the computer and going into the woods by myself to look around and realize the beauty of the land we manage. I get to hear the birds and feel the wind. That’s my favorite part, stepping away to feel the magic.”

Grace married James Hill, a general repair worker at Tettegouche State Park. They have three daughters, Henley 5, Shea, 3, and Betsy, 1. She would like to see her children follow family tradition and work for state parks one day. Sometimes Grace’s daughters dress up in their forest ranger Halloween costume and forest ranger hat and ride around in their child-size vehicle with its large DNR label.

Does Gary miss the work? Yes. He does not miss most parts of winter, like snow removal. These days he plays a lot of golf and goes camping with his wife at a regional park 10 miles from their home in Surprise, Arizona. Dan Roth, a retired park manager at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, lives just down the block.

Meanwhile, daughter Grace, like her dad, leaves for Tettegouche State Park each workday. She said she hopes to do justice to Gary’s legacy and fill his shoes. “Not just to live in his shadow, but to create a name for myself,” she said.

Photos courtesy of Grace Hill.

Verified by MonsterInsights