Tina Satterwhite-Short couldn't keep her eyes off the uniformed man sporting a wide-brimmed hat as he rode through Fort DuPont Park in the District one summer day in 1956.
He looked so gallant, and she started dreaming.
"That's exactly what I want to be when I grow up," she said aloud during her day-camp session at the park.
Then came the ugly truth. Camp Director Verna Freeman overheard the child's remark and issued a warning: There were no women, and certainly no black folks, in those kinds of jobs. In other words, dream on, child.
Fast-forward 43 years.
Satterwhite-Short, 51, poses for a picture with her daughter, Kym Elder, 32, at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens in the District one recent summer day. The pair, both residents of Fort Washington, are decked out in the wide-brimmed hats and matching green uniforms of the National Park Service.
They don't ride horses through the hills, but mother and daughter are park rangers. They are believed to be the only such pair in the history of the service.
Satterwhite-Short works as an interpretive specialist for the National Park Service East. She oversees the planning and implementation of educational programs at eight national parks in the District and Prince George's County. Elder, who grew up following her mom around the parks, is park manager at Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, where she is responsible for 70 acres of federal land and a staff of nine.
This is a wonderful story about one determined sister whose dream came true. But even more, Satterwhite-Short's story shows the value of programs that offer education and career advancement opportunities to young dreamers trapped in dead-end jobs.
For years after the camp director's remarks, Satterwhite-Short didn't dare imagine herself a park ranger. But she was working for the U.S. Postal Service in 1971 when she stepped on the elevator one day and saw a young black women dressed in a National Park Service uniform. Her childhood dream came rushing back.
"I told her, 'Oh, that's what I always wanted to be,' " Satterwhite-Short recalled.
The young ranger encouraged Satterwhite-Short to apply. She did and landed a job as a receptionist.
Soon afterward, Satterwhite-Short received full tuition for four years of college from the Park Service through a program called Career Advancement for Paraprofessionals Through Education and Development. By then a mother of two, she used the scholarship to enroll in American University. She graduated in 1977 with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice.
After graduation, Satterwhite-Short was offered a position as a park ranger and 15 weeks of training at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. She took both, thinking that the trip west would enhance her daughters' lives.
"I just remember hating to leave my family and friends," Elder recalled. "But it was a life experience I never regret having."
Kym, then 11, and her sister, Nicole, then 7, were the only black children in the small school system in Grand Canyon. The other children sometimes taunted Kym, pinching her ears and breaking her pencils, so she found refuge in the library.
"I became an avid reader," Elder said. "Even today, I read five to six books a month."
Their teachers and classmates from Congress Heights Elementary School in the District wrote them letters. The girls figured their mother surely must have hated to subject them to such isolation. They vowed never to become park rangers.
Later when the family returned to Washington, Satterwhite-Short got the surprise of her life. Her first permanent assignment was supervisory park ranger of Fort DuPont Park, the place that had first inspired her dream.
"It was everything I hoped it would be and more," Satterwhite-Short said of her years with the service.
Satterwhite-Short often brought her girls along to meetings and special programs at national parks throughout the Washington area. The younger daughter, Nicole, now 29, eventually became a reporter. But Elder found her niche in the Park Service.
She became fascinated with the life story of former slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass and read everything she could find on his life. At age 9, she began volunteering for the Park Service at Douglass's home in Anacostia, a 19th-century historic site operated by the Park Service. As a teenager, she got summer jobs there.
"To me, greeting the visitors from all over the world and telling them about Frederick Douglass was just thrilling," Elder said.
In 1989, Elder graduated with a bachelor's degree in biology from Norfolk State University and accepted a job with the National Park Service. Eventually, she became manager of the Frederick Douglass site high on a hill overlooking the Capitol and downtown Washington.
During a recent visit to a waterlily festival at the Kenilworth park, U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt met the mother and daughter team. He was so impressed with their story that he invited them to submit it to a magazine commemorating the department's 150th anniversary, published in March.
These days, when Elder looks back, she appreciates her mother's determination--even the 15 weeks in the Grand Canyon. A graduate student and the mother of two sons, Elder often brings her oldest son, Alan Elder Jr., 8, with her to work.
"My son is in the park all the time," Elder said. "He's fascinated with birds. He wants some binoculars for bird-watching, and he works in the summer with his grandma."
"I remember saying I would never do this to my child," she said. "I guess life goes in a circle."
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CAPTION: Kym Elder, left, and mother Tina Satterwhite-Short are National Park Service rangers. They are believed to be the only such pair in the history of the service.