It’s been half a century since La Crescenta’s Fred Koegler began as a Yosemite park ranger, and he has no plans to slow down.
By Brandon HENSLEY
For some, being of retirement age may mean days spent in reclining chairs or gardening in the sunshine. For others, it’s an opportunity to keep moving, to do what they truly love no matter how many years pass. Fred Koegler’s state of mind falls firmly in the latter group.
From the time he was a young boy, spending days and nights camping with his father and sister, Yosemite National Park has always had a place in Koegler’s heart. It’s why he began working summers there as a park ranger in 1965, and it’s why, at 74, after celebrating 50 years this summer, he continues to work in the park’s Tuolumne Meadows region, with no end in sight.
Simply put, he does it because he loves it.
“You don’t want to sit down and do nothing in retirement like a lot of people. They have no goals. My goal was to keep working,” said Koegler, a native of Hollywood who spends every May to September at Yosemite with his wife Debbie.
Together, they’ve built lasting memories and relationships in Tuolumne, which has become a second home. But no matter where Koegler is, he always keeps busy. He’s spent decades throughout his life as a driver’s education coach and track coach at Verdugo Hills High School, an assistant scout master for Eagle Scout Troop 319 (his sons Lyle and Fred are former Eagle Scouts) and for more than four decades has been a part of the Montrose Search and Rescue team.
MSR team member Mike Leum said Koegler will check his stats (i.e. the amount of trainings, patrols, etc.) and make sure he is a high producer before he leaves for Yosemite every spring.
“He donates hundreds of hours a year,” Leum said. “The guy’s amazing,”
In addition to his teaching career, Koegler’s been trained in firefighting and law enforcement. In Yosemite, Koegler has a reputation for educating the public, such as on the dangers of Yosemite’s Tioga Road. Debbie called him a throwback.
“It used to be the old-time way,” she said. “It was educating the public rather than arrest them and do the law enforcement. He’s really good at what he does because he knows what it was like back then.”
In Yosemite, Koegler has had his run-ins with bears looking for food, but he has also been involved with many rescues. These days, he rides his horse, King, and sometimes brings along a carry-out mule named Otis during patrols. Koegler can ride 20 miles out for a rescue.
While rescuees may be thankful, it’s young kids around the campground who are wide-eyed when Koegler comes strolling along on King, like something out of the past. Many of them, Koegler said, have never seen a horse.
“People love to see a ranger on a horse,” Koegler said. “They don’t see them anymore. That was the icon of national parks back then.”
Koegler spends much of his time taking pictures and shaking hands. He doesn’t see himself as a park celebrity, though.
“I don’t think so,” he said chuckling. “I don’t call myself that. I love to do the job. I love to talk to people.”
Despite the fun parts to his job, and life, Koegler has seen the rough times. He was in Yosemite in 2009 when the Station Fire broke out. Koegler received a call that his home was in danger, so he and Debbie immediately left to drive back down. The house was okay, but Koegler was later a part of a rescue team that found two firefighters who perished.
The walls of Koegler’s home feature a panoramic shot of Yosemite, as well as several paintings capturing the essence of the place, which were done by a friend.
Even though it’s only October, he’ll be back up there soon enough.
“We just love it because of the mountains,” Debbie said. “We’re in the mountains. We have simple living, we’re in the Alpine Meadow … the air is nice and clean.”
But before next spring arrives, Koegler will have the honor of riding in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. The theme for 2016 is “Find Your Adventure,” as the parade will center on the centennial celebration of U.S. National Parks. It will be a day that Koegler won’t want to miss. Thanks to his life’s passion, he’s still going strong.
“If you keep doing something constantly, you’re going to have a long life,” he said.