It isn’t part of the agency’s mission statement to make childhood dreams come true – but it became our privilege today at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell had the honor of making a childhood dream come true for actress Betty White.
As a child, White explained in a recent interview, she had always wanted to be a forest ranger. ‘Back then they didn’t let girls do that sort of thing’ she commented. Today White received a special plaque, a Forest Service badge and special Ranger’s Stetson from Chief Tidwell.
“I am sorry you couldn’t join us before,” Tidwell remarked. “Judging from your illustrious career, you would have made marvelous contributions to our agency and to the cause of conservation across the United States,” he said. “Betty, you are a role model for little girls – for all of us – never to give up on our dreams.”
With an engaging smile and a tear in her eye White expressed her appreciation for the honor, and her personal conviction and enthusiasm toward conservation.
“I cannot thank you enough.” She began. “Whether I’ve been a legitimate forest ranger, or not, I’ve been working for the (conservation) cause for the last 89 years,” she laughed. “And I will continue to work for it as much as I can.” White added, “In my heart I’ve been a forest ranger all my life, but now I’m official.”
The actress shared that some of her first memories as a child are riding into the High Sierras in front of her father on horseback. They would stay for three weeks and never see “another two-legged soul,” she joked.
White concluded her remarks by saying, “As excited as I am today, as grateful as I am – I know two people who would be over the moon – my mom and dad.”
For the record, the first women employed by the Forest Service as a lookout was Hallie M. Daggett, who started work at Eddy’s Gulch Lookout Station atop Klamath Peak on the Klamath National Forest, in the summer of 1913.
But it would be more than 40 years before the agency hired its first woman forester, Joanne G. McElfresh, in 1957. She worked on the Deerlodge National Forest (now the Beaverhead-Deerlodge) in Montana. More than 20 years later the first woman took the reins of a District Office when Wendy Milner Herrett was selected to lead the Blanco Ranger District on the White River National Forest. In 2007 the agency named its first woman Chief Forester when Gail Kimbell was selected to head the organization.
The Forest Service has become more effective, efficient, open and proactive in its role of managing the nation’s forests and grasslands for current and future generations. Women have made great contributions to and fulfill vital roles in the agency’s success.
Making dreams come true may not be a written part of the Forest Service’s mission. But the results of the agency’s conservation and management efforts – and the contributions of the men and women of the Forest Service – provide the background and potential for many dreams to come true. Just ask Betty White.