Ruth and Keith Reeves are always fishing for adventure
"Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it."
― Norman Maclean
As a young boy, Keith Reeves didn't know what to do with his life — until he learned to fish.
"As I was fishing down at the river and trying to decide what to do with my life, I started to realize there was a future out there that wasn't in high school!" he related. "And then one day when I was around 17, I read an article about a company that was polluting the river — and I realized those were my fish that they were polluting! I thought I should do something about it and wondered what that might be. I decided I should go into work with fisheries."
Not only did that decision lead Reeves to a career as a fish biologist, but it also led him on an indirect path to his wife, Ruth. The two were students at the University of Missouri in Columbia when they met in — what else? — ichthyology class!
Ruth had grown up in the farmlands of North Central Iowa and was child number seven in a family of 10 kids.
"There was the typical small town atmosphere, where we had a lot of freedom to run around town," she said.
After high school she went to Iowa State in Ames, Iowa, and earned a business degree, also taking classes in journalism. After graduation she worked at a family-owned newspaper in northwest Iowa.
"It was a family-owned business, so everybody pretty much did a little of everything," she said.
She then moved on to Columbia, Mo., and enrolled in graduate school to pursue a master's degree in journalism.
"I'd always been interested in the outdoors and loved it," she said, "so I added a few extra courses in fish and wildlife biology along the way."
By the time she earned her journalism degree, she had done a couple of internships — one with the conservation department working for their magazine. And just as she was finishing up, the head of the fish and wildlife department encouraged her to stay on and finish her fish and wildlife biology degree as well.
It was while she was taking those classes that she met Keith, a graduate student studying to become a fish biologist. The two hit it off after realizing they had a lot in common. Keith grew up in Janesville, Wis., and was also interested in the outdoors. He had studied fish and aquatic biology at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point before going on to Missouri.
They were married in 1990.
At the time Keith graduated from grad school, he realized there was no future for him in the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Ruth was already working there, and since the department had a strict nepotism rule, he wasn't even allowed to apply.
The two had been wanting to move north anyway, so Keith began looking for employment and ended up accepting a job in Aitkin, Minn.
"At the time I interviewed for the job," said Keith, "we wondered where in the world Aitkin was! It wasn't until 22 years later that we left there."
Their daughter, Emma, was born a year later, and their son, Jack, two years after that.
"It was a great town for the kids to grow up," said Ruth. "We lived right in town, so our kids had that small town experience that both of us appreciated."
For eight years Keith worked as a fish biologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and did field sampling of the native fish populations. After that, he focused on research on Lake Mille Lacs, particularly concerning the walleye population.
Ruth stayed home with their children for a couple of years before going to work at Long Lake Conservation Center as a naturalist and teacher for four years. But her hours weren't compatible with her children's schedules, so she started looking around for something else.
She'd learned that the community education director was retiring, so she went to see her and find out more about it. After learning she'd have to get an administrator's license, she decided to go back to school and give it a try.
She finished after three years, while working the job at the same time, and stayed on for the next 14 years.
And then, just as their son was graduating from high school, Ruth learned that the community education director in Cloquet was retiring. She had been wanting to get into a full-time position so she decided to throw her hat into the ring. She was offered the job and, as they were trying to make up their minds, Keith learned there was an opening with the DNR in French River, north of Duluth. After that, the decision wasn't hard to make.
"One of the big things we used to do when our kids were growing up was to spend a lot of time outdoors," said Keith. "One of the things we liked to do was come over to Duluth and Jay Cooke State Park. That was a big deal for us and we really enjoyed it."
They made the move to Carlton County five years ago.
"It was a big change for us," Ruth admitted. "We were becoming empty nesters and facing new jobs at the same time."
They rented a small home in Cloquet for a time before finding a home between Esko and Cloquet, just off Highway 61.
Since Keith works in the Lake Superior office of the DNR, much of what he does is on Lake Superior.
"I help out with some of the fish sampling and also coordinate the angler surveys that are done with the charter captains and the other anglers to find out what type of fish they're catching, how many, if the populations are going up or down and if there are more or less anglers," explained Keith.
Ruth works at her community ed job year round, including supervising the operation of the city beach as well as the school-age care program, Kids Corner.
START OPTIONAL TRIM:
How has community ed changed during the time Ruth has been here?
"Some of the things have stayed pretty stable," she said. "I think the one thing that has changed the most is Kids Corner. When I first got here in 2012, we were kind of on the tail end of those recession years, so I think there were more people unemployed. But since then, that program has grown every year in the past five years and it continues to grow. I take that as a good sign that people are now getting work. Even now, we're way up and we have a waiting list. The demand for that program has been phenomenal."
Next year, the Kids Corner summer program will move to the new wing at Churchill Elementary, and during the school year it will continue to be hosted at Churchill and Zion Lutheran Church.
The big move now will be with the opening of Cloquet's new middle school.
"Several of the programs will shift, including our office, which will move from the current middle school to the new school," Ruth explained.
They have to be done there on June 29, at which time Ruth and her staff of seven will move into temporary quarters in the high school guidance area until the new middle school is complete. Time for Tots Preschool and Early Childhood Family Education programs, now in the middle school, will move into the new wing at Churchill at the end of June.
"There's just a lot of movement of programs right now," she said. "I've never been through a building project before!"
Ruth said Community Education's adult education programs are going strong as well.
"I have really good staff here and they work really hard. It's almost like a mission for them, looking for opportunities to talk with people, finding out what they want and trying to make that happen."
END OPTIONAL TRIM
Although both Keith and Ruth are extremely busy with their jobs, they remain committed to the passion that brought them here.
"When we first moved here," said Keith, "we decided we wanted to be active and explore this great area. Eventually we got on the Lake Superior Hiking Trail and decided we were going to hike it — all of it! It took us a couple of years but we did it."
The lower sections were easy to drive out and back, so they'd do five or 10 miles in a segment. Once they got further along, they stayed and camped.
"We have an old minivan so we'd park a vehicle on both ends," explained Ruth. "Where the trail crosses a road there's often a small parking lot where you're allowed to camp, so we took the seat out of the back of the van and slept in there."
"Then we'd get up early, as the sun was coming up, and get back on the trail!" added Keith.
Both are proud to point out their "trophy" — an extended series of maps posted around the walls of their dining room that depicts the various sections of the hiking trail, with each segment highlighted as they hiked it.
"Even when we got off a particularly sweaty, buggy trip and were hot and tired, we really looked forward to coming home and recording it on the wall," said Keith.
Ruth kept a journal every day, recording what the temperature was, how many people they encountered and what the terrain was like.
"It's world-class scenery up there," she attested. "Basically, you're walking from here to Canada. The trail goes through every park up there. Though we'd been to those parks, you see them a little differently when you're on the hiking trail."
On most of the trail they didn't encounter many other people.
"Sometimes we'd go without seeing anyone," said Ruth, "and many days we'd encounter only one or two."
"The Lakewalk in Duluth is part of the trail too," added Keith with a chuckle, "so you can't say that about all of it!"
Now that the Big Adventure is over, the Reeves say they've kept busy with pursuing the simple pleasures of their own backyard — strolling around Spafford Park, having a cup of coffee at The Warming House, doing a little cross country skiing or snowshoeing at Jay Cooke and visiting the Sax-Zim Bog near Meadowlands.
They also fulfilled one of the wishes on Ruth's bucket list — taking their sea kayaks to the Apostle Islands.
"We got to go all through the sea caves and it was wonderful!" she exclaimed.
In the meantime, Keith has a little bucket list of his own — to go fishing on Chub Lake and go fishing on the river.
"I just love to fish!" he said with a grin. "One of the jokes about being a fish biologist is that you don't have time to fish, or that you don't want to because you see so many big fish. But in the end, I still do!"