Jerry Mernin (1932-2011)

Unfortunately, few NPS employees who did not work in Yellowstone got to know one of its legendary rangers, Jerry Mernin.  I was one of the lucky ones who worked for him while I was a seasonal at the Lake Ranger Station in the park.  Jerry worked in Yellowstone for 32 years (1964-1995).  One of his favorite sayings was that there were never bad days in Yellowstone, only different days

Jerry Mernin
Jerry Mernin

How many rangers do we know who graduated from Notre Dame, finished law school in San Francisco, and then dropped out to become a seasonal in Yosemite?  The same intelligence that allowed him to pass the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the hardest exam I ever suffered through, was the most defining characteristic of his approach to managing the areas of Yellowstone for which he had responsibility.  As unpredictable as wild places are, Jerry always seemed to have considered the possibilities and developed potential alternatives for their management.  He was a superb mentor, coaxing the best performance out of the group of seasonals of varying degrees of experience and ability.  He had patience with those of us who did not possess the same degree of backcountry skills he did. In my 31 years working for the Park Service, I never knew a ranger who handled stock as well as he did.  His law enforcement skills were equally as good. When I began working as a seasonal in 1959, they gave me a copy of the Code of Federal Regulations and told me to read it and mentioned there was a handgun in the glove compartment of the truck and to use it only if I needed it. That was the extent of my training.  He was the first permanent for whom I worked who made sure his seasonals were properly trained, explaining that he didn’t want any of us to get killed. Remember, this was long before the days of mandatory seasonal law enforcement training.

In the four or five seasons I worked for Jerry, I probably heard him say more than a dozen times, “Do good, avoid evil; remember who you are and what you stand for; and watch out for the company you keep.”  That probably is a good summary for the way he tried to conduct his career and manage the people who worked for him.  His standards were high and he expected those who worked for him to measure up to them.  As young, rowdy seasonals, I’m not sure that we all lived up to the last part of that phrase, but we tried.

In 1971, Jerry met a nurse at the Lake Hospital, fell in love, married, and spent the next 40 years with Cindy.  This was especially fortuitous for some years after Jerry retired, he suffered from a debilitating case of Parkinson’s disease.  I think all of us who saw Jerry in the last years of his life were grateful that Cindy was there to help him during this difficult time,  All of us who knew them loved her also

When I think back on my career with the NPS, I realize that almost everything I knew about being a ranger, I learned from Jerry.  I will bet that there are many who would say the same thing.  He was a “ranger’s ranger.”  It’s the highest compliment I can give him.  Thanks, Jerry.

-Rick Smith

Photo credit: James Fain