The Forest Service Family

Working for the Forest Service has often required employees to move frequently. While all of the men interviewed for this project spent a portion of their careers in Region 8, many of them moved multiple times during their Forest Service careers and commented on the variety of places they lived. Gordon Small noted that he and his wife moved fourteen times, to areas as varied as Kentucky, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C., and Georgia, and he mentioned that he knew others who moved even more often. Many of these men enjoyed it because it allowed them to see different areas of the country and explore new environments. Dave Jolly commented, “I started out in South Carolina with the Forest Service. The highest place in the forest, the forest was about 300,000 acres, the highest place on the forest was 15 feet above sea level. And I worked then in New Mexico, Arizona, and in Montana, and Idaho, and North Dakota where we had peaks over 14,000 feet so that’s some of the differences and everything in between that.  It’s so diverse that it’s…that’s one of the really interesting things about it.”


Source: Foresters at Work: Tombigbee National Forest, Mississippi; Photographs Relating to National Forests, Resource Management Practices, Personnel, and Cultural and Economic History, compiled ca. 1897-ca. 1980; Records of the Forest Service, 1870-2008, Record Group 95; National Archives at College Park, MD [online version available through the Archival Research Catalog (ARC Identifier 7001188) at, June 14, 2013]

Moving could be exciting for the Forest Service men, but they weren’t traveling alone. These men brought their families with them, who then had to adjust to their new surroundings. Dave Jolly moved sixteen times over the course of his career and he noted that without his wife’s support, it would have been difficult for him to do his job. He stated that Forest Service wives rarely received recognition for the work they did to support their husbands and the Forest Service, recalling one incident where a fire broke out on the Mena District on the Ouachita National Forest and the ranger’s wife went from church to church, interrupting sermons to organize volunteers to fight the fire. He noted that this type of support was typical of Forest Service wives. While these women moved with their husbands and supported them in their jobs, their own careers were often disrupted. Mr. Jolly remembered that his wife had to give up her job, and find a new one each time they moved, noting that this continues to be an issue for Forest Service spouses.

Gordon Small Interview Clip:
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Families also adjusted to different cultures and circumstances when they moved. Ginny Small recalled that when she and her husband moved to Manchester, Kentucky, she found herself in a small coal mining town much different from anywhere she had previously lived. Pregnant with her first child, Mrs. Small found the adjustments difficult at times. Her daughter was born two months early and had some health problems that required a two-month hospital stav in another town. Because it was winter with roads covered in snow and ice, they sometimes could not visit the baby for two or three days. Mrs. Small remembered how difficult it was when they were finally able to bring her home. The hospital advised Mrs. Small to keep the newborn inside to keep her away from the coal dust and other contaminants. Many days, her husband worked twelve or fourteen hours, which made it difficult for Mrs. Small to go grocery shopping or do laundry.

In spite of these difficulties, the people interviewed for this project conveyed positive views of raising their family in the Forest Service. Many likened the experience to raising a family in the military because families did move a lot, but also found support from the larger Forest Service community. The Smalls both felt that the experience of moving and meeting different people gave them a broader perspective on life. Mr. Small stated, “If you move around a lot, you get to meet a lot of new people, you get a lot of different experiences, you get exposed to a lot of perspectives that you wouldn’t have gotten exposed to. So, there’s plusses and minuses. I think our kids have a different, a broader view of things maybe than someone that never did get a chance to move around.”  A number of interviewees explained that they dealt with the moves by becoming involved in their communities through church activities and community organizations like the Boys and Girl Scouts or Kiwanis and Rotary clubs. Forest Service families also found comfort in befriending others within the agency. Because they all had similar experiences, they could easily relate to the challenges and opportunities that came with frequent moves. The Forest Service came to be like a family, both for employees and their loved ones. Many people stayed in touch with their colleagues and families for years, through numerous moves, and even after retirement.