Cowley College Alumni Association

Alumni Shout Out

How I Arrived at a Career in the United States Forest Service

By James E. Bossi

Photograph of James E. Bossi in a field of flowersAs a farm kid growing up in southern Kansas, I was comfortable knowing that a career in ranching and farming was waiting there for me. However, severe asthma attacks during my high school years due to hay and grain dust made me realize that a career in farming was probably out of the question.

I just couldn’t come up with what kind of a career I really wanted, so I decided to attend the local Arkansas City Junior College and think about it some more. I was extremely proud of my older brother who graduated from the University of Kansas in Chemical Engineering, so I enrolled in Pre-Engineering courses at the junior college. I got to know my physics professor, Gaye Iden, quite well and really admired her. She kind of took me under her wing and we had long discussions on different careers. Geology sounded interesting to me and she said she would teach a course in geology if I could find others who would enroll in it. I found a few others; I think there were four of us, and she taught the course.

The more I thought about it, I knew I liked trees better than rocks, so the idea of forestry popped in my mind and I thought, “Wow! That’s it!” If I couldn’t farm, forestry would also keep me outdoors, and this is what I wanted.

My good friend, Jack Stark, and I talked about it and we decided to apply to forestry schools. Kansas didn’t have one. We were accepted at Michigan, Oregon, and Colorado State. It was then called Colorado A&M. These were all three top forestry schools. The more we thought about it, the more Colorado State appealed to us, so that is where we both enrolled.

All Forestry students at CSU were required to spend the summer session between sophomore and senior years at Pingree Park Forestry Camp. Since we were transferring in as juniors, we went directly to the summer camp.

When transferring in to CSU, all of my junior college credits were accepted. However, since I didn’t have many of the required first and second year Forestry courses, it took an extra semester to graduate.

Just after graduating in January, 1954 with a B.S. in Forest Utilization, I applied for a job with Potlatch Timber Company in Lewiston, Idaho. During the interview with Potlatch, they said they would hold the job open until I finished the time in the service if drafted. This gave me a comfortable feeling knowing that, if drafted, a job would be waiting for me.

The Korean War was just ending, but the Army Draft was still in effect. As an alternative to being drafted, after finishing college, I decided to apply to the Naval Officers Candidate School in Newport, Rhode Island. After successfully passing both written and physical tests, I was accepted. However, just prior to leaving for the OCS, the Department of the Navy sent a telegram saying that a review of medical records revealed my history of asthma and they were turning me down. I couldn’t understand this, because I was then drafted into the Army Infantry where I would be much more prone to have asthmatic problems in the field than on the water!

After completing Basic Training in Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, I was shipped to Fort Meyer in Arlington, Virginia just outside of Washington D.C. This is where the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is located. Because of my forestry degree, I was assigned the job of taking care of the trees and shrubs on the post. Because of the small number of trees and shrubs on this tiny post, I soon became bored and began checking around for a transfer.

I heard about Fort Belvoir, which is a huge Army post near Mount Vernon, Virginia just a few miles south of Washington D.C. Upon investigating, I met a Captain Heady, who was in charge of land management on the post. Being a Private, I was awed and a little scared to be talking to a Captain, but he seemed glad to meet me; he immediately arranged for my transfer from Fort Meyer to Fort Belvoir. I was assigned to Company A of the Engineers Battalion with an MOS as a light truck driver.

In addition to the combat training, I was to report to Captain Heady for an 8-to-5 day job. The Forest Service, Department of Agriculture had just requested the Department of the Army to complete a forest management plan for all Army installations which had over 5,000 acres of forested land. The Department of the Army decided to complete a Forest Management Plan for Fort Belvoir, so they could send it to all the other posts as an example and guide for them to use; and this was Captain Heady’s responsibility. He had just hired a civilian Forester by the name of Birger Birg to complete the plan. Birger Birg was a Norwegian with a Ph.D. in Forestry. He had been a roommate of Richard McArdle while working on his Doctorate Degree at the University of Michigan. Richard McArdle was then the Chief of the Forest Service. Meanwhile, George Rinehart, who had a degree in Forestry from West Virginia University, showed up on the post; he and I did all of the timber cruising, inventory, etc., necessary to complete the forest management plan for Fort Belvoir under the supervision of Birger Birg.

During my 1 ½ years at Fort Belvoir, I had many interesting experiences. My bunkmate, Charles Ripple, had an uncle who was Deputy Chief for Administration, U.S. Forest Service; his name was Henry Wold. Henry lived in an affluent part of Maryland and invited us to weekend meals several times; Henry asked if I would like to attend the 50th anniversary dinner of the Forest Service, and arranged to have me seated at the head table next to Mrs. Gifford Pinchot. Her husband, Gifford Pinchot, first chief of the U.S. Forest Service, had been deceased for several years. Of course, there were about 30 people seated at the head table. Me in my dress Army Private uniform, I had a variety of feelings from being honored to being embarrassed! Mrs. Pinchot had flaming red hair and a strong, outgoing personality. I remember her telling me how much her husband Gifford would enjoy this anniversary gathering.

On several occasions, Birger Birg would say, “Let’s go see Chief McAdle.” So we would get in my Army pickup and drive in to the USDA Building to see the Chief.  I had a permanent pickup assigned to me, but would have to check it in and out of the motor pool daily. Chief McAdle said several times how much the agency needed young Foresters.

Birger Birg lived in an apartment in Alexandria, Virginia and invited George Rinehart and I to have dinner several times. Birger’s wife was an excellent cook and served Scandinavian meals with several courses. Birger said there was a Forest Service man who lived in the apartment next to him and introduced me to Floyd Godden. Talk about a small world. The Godden’s son, Bill, was a Sigma Chi Fraternity brother of mine while at Colorado State. Needless to say, we had a lot of common ground to discuss and got very well acquainted. In fact, many years later, my wife and I were very close to Mrs. Godden, who lived in Ogden, Utah, after Floyd passed away. Floyd was Assistant Chief in charge of fire control for the Forest Service and he said I should go to work for the Forest Service. I told him I already had a job waiting for me with the Potlatch Timber Company in Lewiston, Idaho. I also told him, coming from a farming and ranching background with strong conservative feelings, I had no desire to work for the Federal Government! He said I would find the Forest Service different from a lot of government agencies; he also went on to say what a great outfit the Forest Service was with a strong work ethic and a great “Esprit de Corps”! I still wasn’t convinced, but he said “Why don’t you try it for a year and if you don’t like it, you can still resign and go to work for Potlatch Timber.”

Just a few weeks before George Rinehart and I were to be discharged after two years in the Army, the Goddens invited us in for dinner. The had also invited Jack Cooche to dinner. Jack was the Forest Supervisor of the Payette National Forest headquarter in McCall, Idaho. Floyd Godden had brought him in to the Chief’s office for a meeting. Jack told us he had jobs for both of us, and offered us both jobs as Assistant District Rangers:  George on the Hornet Ranger District, and me on the Council Ranger District. Well, this was just too good to pass up, so I applied and received the job of Assistant Ranger, Council Ranger District in Council, Idaho. It turned out that they were right. The Forest Service was such a great outfit to work for, that I never had a second thought about quitting and going to work for Potlatch. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have attended Colorado State and to have had such a satisfying career with the U.S. Forest Service. Those were two decisions in my life that I have never regretted.