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DNR retiree enoys 'new' career

May 10, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

marlob@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING - When Donnie Simmons is on the road in his latest job with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, he's never alone - he carries a life-sized deer torso model wherever he roams.

As hunter education coordinator for Maryland's western region, Simmons, 50, uses the model to instruct new hunters on where to aim when hunting deer so the animals are brought down quickly and efficiently.

Simmons has been working by contract in this new position since January, six months after he officially retired from 30 years of full-time employment with the DNR.

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"I have always loved hunting and fishing, so from my earliest youth, I wanted to be a game warden," he said.

A native of Accokeek, Md., in Prince George's County, Simmons' association with DNR began in 1971 in the wildlife conservation side of the agency. Then he was appointed a police cadet in the first class of its kind in the state.

From 1972 to 1974, as a cadet in land/marine wildlife, he worked aboard The Maryland Lady, former Gov. Marvin Mandel's yacht.

After graduating in 1975 from the DNR Academy in Stevensville, Md., Simmons was assigned to Montgomery County as a patrol officer. Two years later, he met his future wife, Kathy, and they moved to Washington County.

Over the years, Simmons has investigated hundreds of incidents involving hunters, shootings, drownings, capsized boats, lost fishermen, tree stand accidents ... the list is endless.

"Just by nature of the job, it seemed like I was always working weekends, holidays, getting called away from dinner and other family activities," Simmons said.

He and his wife raised two children, Megan, 20, and Andy, 18. They became accustomed to Dad getting called away a lot for his job, but that doesn't mean they liked it.

"The new job doesn't involve weekends and holidays like before," Kathy Simmons said. She works part time as a medical secretary at Washington County Hospital.

After his official retirement in July 2003 with the rank of captain, Simmons had a brief stint with the Woodmen of the World insurance company as its fraternal public relations coordinator.

Learning of the job with DNR, Simmons picked up the contract.

When he came on board, the job had been vacant for about 18 months. He has been catching up with the work that went undone for that time, working from an office in his home, as well as at the Wildlife Management office in Blair's Valley.

As hunter education coordinator, Simmons puts on workshops for instructors and monitors hunter education classes in all counties from Carroll west to Garrett.

In Maryland, anyone born after July 1, 1977, must take a hunter safety class before a hunting license is issued.

"I must provide materials and guidance, as well as coordinating the activities of the program throughout the region," Simmons said. "I also teach if necessary, since all the instructors are volunteers."

Still involved in his beloved calling, he said he is happy that he can spend more time at home with his family, enjoying the wildlife that visits his rural home along Hanging Rock Road.

"I don't miss the law enforcement part of the job and I certainly don't miss the hours," he said.

But another member of the Simmons family soon may be dealing with those same challenges. His son is a student at Frostburg (Md.) University, where he is studying wildlife and fisheries.

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