By JIM ABRAMS
I was about 12 when people began asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Like most boys that age, I was still waiting for high school football and my first kiss. Even so, the ideas were beginning to swim through my mind.
By the time I landed on the gridiron, the first Earth Day had been celebrated, Rachel Carson’s warnings of the effects of pesticides on birds were being proven, Lake Erie was a mess, the Cuyahoga River had caught fire and the American bald eagle was at the threshold to the door of extinction.
The Vietnam War had finally come to an end while John Denver sang “Rocky Mountain High” and an awareness of our environment had become prominent among young people. I joined the ranks of college students who wanted to make a difference.
Margaret Park, better known as Peggy, was in those ranks. Born in Columbus, she attended Bexley High School and went on to graduate from Ohio State University in 1981. The degree she earned was in natural resources and wildlife management. It equipped her well to fulfill her aspirations of becoming a naturalist.
We never met, but I know something of what was in Peggy’s heart. She wanted to share her love for nature with others through education and to try and curb what she saw as the neglect, destruction and abuses of our wildlife resources. Her degree also proves that she understood that legal hunting and angling were not the culprits, but that ignorance, apathy, criminal acts and ineffective laws were the perpetrators.
In 1982, Peggy accepted the position as a wildlife officer with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission at the same time I had left Ohio’s Division of Parks in pursuit of my own history within the Division of Wildlife.
This was a groundbreaking time for women in law enforcement. Once erroneously thought of as a “man’s job,” it could sometimes be tough to break down those old barriers. But women like Peggy were up to the challenge, and we all learned from their persistence, example and dedication. There is no doubt that a little less testosterone has helped defuse many volatile situations.
On the night of Dec. 13, 1984, the 26-year-old wildlife officer was working in northern Pinellas County. She proceeded up Keystone Road and encountered two men shooting a handgun: Martin Grossman, 19, and Thayne Taylor, 17.
A relatively routine run-in for a game warden except in this case, Peggy discovered that the handgun was stolen and that Grossman was no stranger to the judiciary. He was on probation for grand theft and the presence of the firearm certainly violated those conditions.
Grossman begged her not to report him to the authorities. Either he didn’t understand that it was her job to enforce the laws, or he was maneuvering for an opening to run or fight. It ended up that the latter was likely his primary motive.
As Peggy used her portable radio to contact the sheriff’s office for assistance, Grossman attacked her, gaining control of her heavy, metal flashlight. He bludgeoned her on the head and shoulders, and Taylor stepped in and also struck her.
Peggy was able to draw her service revolver and fired one shot that grazed Taylor. Grossman, 100 pounds heavier and a foot taller, wrestled the gun from her and, while Taylor held her down, he put a bullet into the back of her head. The two fled the scene but were arrested a short time later.
Grossman was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, with the penalty carried out in 2010. Thayne Taylor was sentenced to seven years in jail but was released after serving only two years and 10 months for his part in the attack.
Peggy’s ashes were taken by helicopter and scattered over the eagles’ nests she loved to watch, and a memorial was later erected near the spot she died. The study of the deadly encounter is still used as a focal point in enhancing wildlife officer training nationwide so that future incidents might be avoided.
I pray that as Peggy keeps her eternal watch over her beloved eagles as they now flourish that she proudly sees the many dedicated women who have joined the ranks of the thin green line that protects our country’s natural resources.
“Loyalty and devotion lead to bravery. Bravery leads to the spirit of self-sacrifice. The spirit of self-sacrifice creates trust in the power of love.” “” Morihei Ueshiba
Along the way:
The Division of Wildlife will release just over 100,000 rainbow trout this spring at 66 Ohio public lakes and ponds. The releases began on March 8 and will continue through May 19.
Fishing for catchable-sized trout presents an excellent opportunity for families to fish together while introducing youngsters to the outdoors. The rainbows were raised at state fish hatcheries and measure 10 to 13 inches before being released by the ODNR Division of Wildlife. The daily catch limit for inland lakes is five trout.
• April 5: Fulton County at Delta Reservoir No. 2; Richland County at Shelby Reservoir No. 3.
• April 11: Seneca County at Lamberjack Lake; Allen County at Schoonover Lake.
• April 18: Allen County at Lima Lake; Sandusky County at White Star Quarry.
• April 19: Marion County at Quarry Park.
• April 27: Lucas County at Olander Park.
• May 4: Crawford County at Crossroads Industrial Ponds; Hancock County at Giertz Lake.
A fishing license is required for anglers 16 years of age and older.
• A new wildlife officer has been assigned to Hancock County. Antoinette Jolliff has finished the intensive preservice academy, with the class graduating yesterday. She will begin additional training with the division’s field training program. Watch for Antoinette’s interview in a future column.
• Today: UCOA new member training, 10 a.m., UCOA clubhouse, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay. This training is required to use the rifle and pistol ranges. Details at www.ucoa-findlay.com
• Today and tomorrow: Ohio Deer and Turkey Expo, Ohio Expo Center, State Fairgrounds, Columbus.
• Tomorrow: 50-bird monthly trap shoot, UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay. Practice is 11 a.m., program is 12:30 p.m.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m. UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243, Findlay.
• March 23: Second annual Chili Cook-Off and Waterfowl Tour, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, 14000 Ohio 2 W, Oak Harbor. Bring a slow cooker of chili and compete for the judge’s Golden Ladle award, the four-alarm (the hottest chili), or the people’s choice award. Weather permitting, attendees can hop on the Blue Goose bus for a chance to see flocks of tundra swans wintering at the refuge. Free admission.
• March 23: Seneca County Pheasants Forever banquet and fundraiser, Meadowbrook Park Ballroom, Bascom, with doors opening at 5 p.m. Features raffles, silent and live auctions. For tickets, call 419-934-3891 or email www.senecacountypheasantsforever.org
• March 23: Free boater education course. In Ohio, a boater education course is required for anyone operating a boat over 10 horsepower who was born on or after Jan. 1, 1982. There’s a class at East Harbor State Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 419-621-1402 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your place. There is also a course at Maumee Bay State Park from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Call 419-836-6003 or email email@example.com to reserve your place.
• April 6: Black Swamp Bucks Unlimited banquet and fundraiser, doors open at 3 p.m., dinner at 5:30 p.m., the Cube, 3430 N. Main St. Join special guest and program emcee Kevin Blake Weldon, a singer, songwriter and YouTube personality, for a night of games, raffles, a live auction and a meal catered by the Bistro. Tickets are available at Garlock Brothers Construction, 15272 Ohio 12 E; Northwestern Masonry, 4400 N. Main St., or at https://blackswampbucks.com/
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay.
He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard 45867-0413 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org