An interview with Helen Brazee, campground host at Windmill State Recreation Area
By Eric Fowler
How long have you been a campground host?
I started as a camp host in the year 2000, when I retired, but we used to come out here and camp, from the mid-70s all the way until now.
It was in the early ’70s when they made this a park because of the interstate and the sandpits. We’ve got six fishing lakes. People love it out here.
[Note: The sandpits or borrow pits along Interstate 80 were dug to get material to build the highway and its interchanges. Mel Steen, director of Game and Parks Commission when the freeway was built, asked that the pits be dug in a way that they would be more useful as recreation areas and would provide better fish habitat.]
We’d come every other weekend, as often as we could. I’d take a half-day vacation from Pfizer, and we’d come Friday at noon so we could get a spot. Now you’ve got to come Thursday morning to get a spot on the weekends.
When did you lose your husband?
Glen died in 2017 on Dec. 7. Our anniversary was Dec. 5, and we had 58 years, barely. Two days later he passed away. The doctor said, “Helen, he’ll probably live another week.” And I said, “I don’t think so,” because he couldn’t eat.
Mark [Clymer, the former superintendent] and I planted three trees in 2017 in November, right up by the booth. I spent two weeks out here in the motor home by myself because Glen was in the nursing home. I’d have to put him in the nursing home in order to get a break. My insurance would pay five days, and I’d pay five days to come out here and play.
We planted those three trees in memory of Glen and my son, Alan, and that bench I put there with the Sandhill cranes. Alan passed away same year Glen did in March. It wasn’t a good year. That’s why I’m living it up now. You’ve got to take every day to its fullest.
What made you volunteer to be a campground host?
I always respected this park because Mark always kept it as clean as he could and as nice as he could. I would pick up trash and limbs and whatever I could find, even when I wasn’t a camp host, because I wanted things to look nice. Or if the bathroom was dirty, I would just take the toilet paper and wipe the sinks off.
Then I said to him one day, “If you ever need someone to work in the park when I retire, I’d sure like to.” And he said, “Well, you’re hired.”
What are your other duties at the park?
I love planting trees and growing trees. We put mulch around them and water them in. Sometimes I run the water wagon and water all of the trees. I love doing that.
I’ve even got my own weed eater — well, it’s kind of mine. Laura got it for me because it was smaller. I can’t handle the big ones the boys use. This one’s got a battery. I love it.
I used to ride my bike to clean the restrooms.
What do you like about the park?
It’s my favorite little park. It’s so peaceful. I could go over there in my little camper at night, and it’s just wonderful to be out of Lincoln.
I don’t enjoy the ones around Lincoln as much. They’re way, way crowded all the time. This one’s always clean. Perfection.
And the people the beauty of it. The other night we had six deer that came up behind the barn back there about 7:30 p.m., just when it was almost dark. Crazy.
I’m at the park from April to November. I go home once a month to get my mail. I basically live out here. It’s really a comfortable little park. I call it my little jewel in the middle of the country. Not a lot of people know about it unless they do the internet and all that kind of stuff.
Do you hear the interstate?
Never. You get used to it. People off the interstate that have never been here, the tent people, they don’t like that. That’s why we’re trying to get more windbreaks.
That’s the only drawback that I’ve ever heard from anybody is that the interstate is loud at night. I say just turn on your fan or some kind of music or something to knock that out and you won’t have any trouble.
Where do visitors to the park come from?
We have a lot of locals from the Grand Island, Hastings and Kearney areas, but you’d be surprised how many people come in off the interstate, and they love it.
We had one couple this morning that stayed in a tent. They were going back to Boone, Iowa. They’re very nice people. They’ve been here before, and they love it. That’s why they stop on their way back and forth. We have a lot of people from back east that will stop here going west and a lot of Colorado people that are going east.
Windmill is one of two parks where campground hosts stay the entire season. Others are two-week stints. Which do you prefer?
I wouldn’t like moving around. I knew when I retired that this was going to be the one that I worked at, or hosted at. But I wanted to try a couple of others, so I did Fort Kearny and Rock Creek Station. That was fun. I got poison ivy between my fingers and saw my first bobcat running across the path. It was pretty interesting down there.
How old are you?
I will be 84 in February. So I’ve been doing it for a while, 20-plus years, and I love it. And I pray the lord will give me one more year. I’d like to have two, but I’ll just take it one at a time, that’s all you can do. One year at a time, one season at a time.
Tell me about your camper.
This is my fifth new motor home. We started with a used pickup with a 9 ½-foot slide in camper. We went all over California and everywhere with that thing.
We got a really nice one we wanted retire in. When Glen got sick, he said, “We need to get rid of this motor home because you won’t let me drive it anymore.” I said “You can drive it, but we need to get something smaller.” His foot wasn’t working real good. We thought it was a stroke, but it was Parkinson’s. So he said, “Why don’t we trade it in and get something you can drive?.” So that’s exactly what I did. That’s why it’s small, and I can handle it.
What are some of your memories of the park?
I have a lot of good memories in this park. There have been a lot of interesting people. We had some people from Denmark. They rented an RV in California, and they toured. They stayed here three or four days, and it was just fun to talk to them because they were from a different part of the world.
We had some good Fourth of Julys out here.
It’s been just a pleasant place to work.
To learn more about Game and Parks’ Campground Host program and to apply, visit https://outdoornebraska.gov/about/give-back/help-in-a-park/campground-host/.