by Cecilia Fox...TIPP CITY — Returning to Miami County for the first time in more than 20 years, Barbara Huston was overwhelmed by memories.
“I’ve been on such a roller coaster,” she said.
Her late husband Scott was the county’s first park district director and she had not been back to the area since his memorial service.
Huston, standing at the waterfall overlook in Charleston Falls Preserve, said she was overwhelmed, but pleased to see how the parks have grown.
“Honestly, coming back has been such a privilege and a pleasure. The growth and the people. I am so pleased to see what they’ve done,” she said.
She now lives in Denver, Colo., and recently visited the parks with her siblings Maryann and Tom Owen.
Miami County Park District staff planned a two day tour of the parks, including Charleston Falls Preserve, where the Hustons raised five of their six children. The oldest was already away at college, but the others attended Bethel Local Schools.
Huston said the family, especially the kids, often loved living in the park, but it was sometimes difficult.
“I mean, people would walk in thinking that it was the park office. They’d say, ‘Oh, we’re here to use the bathroom.’ Well, it was our home,” she recalled.
After Easter, people would release rabbits in the park and people would drop off unwanted dogs, she said.
“My kids would bring them home. We ended up at one time with five dogs,” she said, remembering life in the park. “It was an experience.”
The Hustons had moved several times before arriving in Miami County. Scott had a degree in forestry and worked in parks systems in Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as in Dayton.
“He was great. He knew every tree, every flower, every bird,” she said.
It wasn’t long before Huston also got involved in the Miami County Park District.
“Normally, wives don’t work with their husbands, but he was in a helicopter crash,” Huston said.
He had only been the parks director for about a year when he was in the accident over Charleston Falls Preserve and “our lives changed,” she said.
“He said, ‘I could dictate some letters.’ So they brought the typewriter to the house and that’s how I became involved. I became his secretary. I did all the payroll for the staff,” she recalled. “Honestly, it was just something I did. I didn’t realize, but yesterday and today I’ve been treated like a princess.”
She remembered making all of the signs for the parks, including the sign in Cedar Pond in Charleston Falls Preserve, the upside down sign that can be read rightside up in its reflection on the water.
“One of the rangers said, ‘You’re doing that upside down and backwards,’” she said.
She also recalled helping to build a split-rail fence at the falls overlook.
“I was part of it. The kids were all in school,” she said.
Huston started park ranger training at the age of 45 and became a ranger.
“It was the first time I was not somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife. Nobody knew who I was,” she said. “It was a really great experience. I didn’t know who I was, I was so entrenched in my family.”
Scott would have been so happy to see the parks today, Huston said.
“I wish he could see,” she said.
Huston said she was glad to have a chance to reconnect with park staff she remembered from her day during her visit. She added that she was impressed by the size of the district today, recalling that Scott used to go out three nights a week giving talks to promote the parks.
Huston said it never occurred to her when she was working in the parks that, 40 years later, anyone would remember her or any of the work she’d done, adding, “I guess I was thinking, ‘OK, this is what I’m doing today.’”
A few years ago, while on a cruise, Huston met a woman from Huber Heights and they started talking.
“This was the middle of the Caribbean,” she recalled. “I said, ‘You ever go into Miami County?’ and she said, ‘Oh, there is the best park there. It’s called Charleston Falls.’”
Reach Cecilia at firstname.lastname@example.org