Energy in workboots that nobody can fill

There’s a concept in ecology called phototropism. It’s where a plant bends toward light. 

In the natural world, it’s common for organisms to gravitate toward energy. Plants lean toward light. Animals are drawn to food sources. 

People, as it turns out, aren’t so different. Energy attracts.

Sometime before I could drive, I remember going ice fishing with my dad and a couple friends of his. One of them was named Pat, and he had an infectious energy. I was drawn to him. Turns out, most people were. And still are.

Years later, I find myself serving an internship with the very county conservation department I now lead. That’s where I first got to work with Pat, the “Rock-n-Roll Ranger” Rogge (pronounced with a hard-O and hard-G) and truly experience phototropism in the workplace. It didn’t matter how hard or crappy the work was (and I mean that literally, we cleaned a lot of latrines), you couldn’t help but want to show up and do your best work when you worked with Pat. 

Pat was energy in workboots and Carhartts. Phototropism incarnate.

You couldn’t have a bad day when you worked with Pat. You could – and would – have hard days. In fact, he liked making sure you did. You’d go home completely spent, dirty from head to toe, but you couldn’t help but look forward to coming back the next day, as long as Pat was going to be there.

Pat thrived on hard work and helping those around him live up to their potential. He would never admit to being a mentor, but dozens of past employees will undoubtedly label him one. As would I. 

That first internship was over 20 years ago. Pat and I have been friends ever since. Almost 15 years ago I got the honor of joining the conservation department full-time. He and I became coworkers then, but I will forever see him first as my friend. 

In the two decades I’ve known Pat professionally, I’ve seen countless other people drawn to Pat’s energy. Interns. Volunteers. Campers. Untold numbers of park visitors. Full time staff. Part time staff. Even people he arrested (he is a Park Ranger, after all). 

I don’t know exactly how he does it. And I’ve tried to figure it out. It’s just who he is. He’s endlessly (sometimes infuriatingly) optimistic and energetic. It’s hard to have your little pity party when he’s drum-soloing on the steering wheel to Metallica on the way to cut brush in 100-degree summer heat. 


They say kids these days don’t want to work. Yet every summer I watch 19 and 20 year old interns show up diligently at 6:00 AM and bust their butts for 10 hours bucking brush, building trail bridges, and keeping our parks looking top-notch. Not because Pat demands it. Pat, for the most part, doesn’t demand anything of anybody. He inspires it. He models it. You simply try to keep up with him. 

Despite his innate aversion to technology, Pat has taken a liking to the video camera on his phone. He regularly shoots “Ranger Rogge” videos of things he does with the team out in the park. On our social media, he’s become a bit of a celebrity. These videos, thankfully, chronicle some of Pat’s energy, maybe for future sociologists to study and learn to replicate. From dancing across bridges, to tripping over his words, to simply showing his enthusiasm for a job well done, those videos are but a tiny snapshot of what makes the “Rock-n-Roll Ranger” the source of energy that he is to this department. 

I know I will enjoy looking back at those videos in the years to come. 

In a couple short weeks, Pat Rogge will retire from Des Moines County Conservation after 33 years. In so doing, he will leave a hole in both the organization and my heart. Next month I will bid farewell to the longest-serving employee in my department’s 61-year history. At 33 years of service, Pat Rogge has worked here longer than most of the other employees have been alive. 

Next month, I will say goodbye to one of my longest-known colleagues, one of my first mentors, and one of the best friends a conservation guy could have ever asked for. 

If he reads this, it will be about here that he’ll say, “Oh c’mon, I’m just retiring. I’m not dying,” and then go on to underplay the impact he’s had on this community and its people over the past three decades. But as I’ve told him in so many of our friendly debates over the years (and there have been many), “you’re entitled to your opinion, even if it is wrong.”

I’m happy for whatever community gets to benefit from the walking ball of energy that is Pat “Rock-n-Roll Ranger” Rogge after he leaves here. And while these won’t be the last bittersweet tears I shed before he goes, I also know that change is as natural as phototropism and species only adapt through struggle. 

There will never be another Pat Rogge. But we’ll do our best to carry his energy, his legacy, forward into the next generation of parks and conservation here in Des Moines County. 

If you’re one of the many people that Pat Rogge has energized over the past three decades, join us for his retirement celebration on August 12 at noon at Starr’s Cave Nature Center.