How did I get Here?

Jack Ramsden

I was recently struck by the irony of my involvement in a peace activist organization.
Jack Ramsden and Joan Cope Savage march in the parade in Canandaigua commemorating the 215th anniversary of the signing of the peace and friendship treaty between the Six Nations and the US. Photo: Lindsay Speer

I have been a policeman. And not just with any police agency. I was with the US Park Police in Washington, DC in the 1970s when every weekend involved crowd control of some group demonstrating on the National Mall.

I have been a military policeman. I was pulled out of the line going to Southeast Asia in 1969 and assigned to guard President Nixon’s helicopters for most of my three year hitch. I have been a military recruiter. In the late 1980s, while serving on active duty with the NY Army National Guard, I was assigned to Oswego County as the Guard recruiter. I visited high schools and competed with the other branches of the military for those young people.

I have had access to confidential FBI files. For the last 14 years of my government service, I oversaw the computer interface between the FBI and state agencies with National Park Service communications centers in several states.

I was one of “those people” hired by Destiny USA and was only recently let go. It was an amazing work experience that I still can get excited about. When I was hired, I was never asked for a resume, nor was anybody else that I know of. We (the original 162 of us) were hired based on demonstrated passion and desire and willingness to not ask “why?,” but to ask “why not?” I don’t know what will happen with the project in the future, but I know they created an incredible “anything is possible” work environment that I had never experienced before.

OK, so how did I get here, working with the Syracuse Peace Council? Some might even ask if I should be here. Obviously, my past is unusual for this community, but I think there is a discernable connection that puts me here.

I grew up on a dairy farm in the 1950s near Otisco Lake. My connections to the natural world are very strong based on exposures that included field work in all kinds of weather. Some people talk about the weather; I celebrate it. I also love and respect the changes of the seasons as only a person with an agricultural background can.

However, my parents motivated me to never allow being a “farm boy” to limit my experience in the wider world. While I appreciated the sense of accomplishment of a clean box stall after an afternoon of shoveling manure, I had to learn to also appreciate books, writing and interactions with people. So, while I might be performing a certain job, I also attempted to “break the stereotype” that people associated with that job. It seemed important to challenge people’s perception of who I was. My uniforms often defined the job I was doing, but I tried to never let them define who I was.

And then, about 30 years ago, I found the woman who would become my life partner. Anne and I shared a passion for parenting and creating a family that would be tested over and over again. Through every challenge, we held fast to our decision to always be there (literally and figuratively) for our children to support them and encourage them.

Our family moved often. At young ages, my children learned to deal with challenges and accept a wide range of different circumstances. All the while, it was incredible to see how having a stable supportive family empowered them. Watching my children grow to adulthood changed my perception of my life. Maybe only a parent can appreciate what that truly means.

We made a decision in the mid-90s to transfer to Crater Lake National Park from the US Park Police in DC. This allowed me to be involved in the natural world and share it with my kids. We also found a house in remote Chiloquin, Oregon which meant that our family would be exposed to the ways of the Klamath Tribe at school, on field trips and in community activities.
Jack in his National Park Service uniform. Photo: unknown

A subsequent move took us to eastern Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park where all three children would graduate from a very different kind of high school. Your children force you to think about their future, especially when they start applying to colleges and you know they will not be home every night. Thinking about their future forces you to imagine what you want for them. Some of the things are pretty obvious, like happiness, love, peace, no hunger, no prejudice, no global warming and the list goes on. You want the world to be a better place than it is today. But you also want them to care about and to be aware of their impact on the Earth and their fellow human beings. And that, of course, causes me to think about the uniforms that I have worn and the ways that I impacted my world and my fellow human beings.

I guess that is why I support the Syracuse Peace Council and, especially, the Neighbors of the Onondaga Nation. The ideas of SPC and the Haudenosaunee are not just right for today; they are right for the future and for my grandchildren’s future.

So, my path to where I am has some job descriptions that don’t really jive with what I am doing now. I am glad to discuss any of them as I am aware of the inherent conflicts. However, the answer to the “how I got here” question is pretty simple – I followed my children.

Jack is currently devoting considerable time to activities of the Peace Council and NOON. Among other activities, he has spent many hours working to bring about a ban on hydrofracking and horizontal