Exceprts from the book “Behind the Badge” by Retired ECO Dick Lang

The Game Warden’s Wife

A conservation officer needs many things to succeed at his job, dedication, commitment, a love of the outdoors, physical health, mental agility and, perhaps just as important as anything else, a wife who understands the stresses of the job and supports his efforts. My wife is Gretchen, but she could be any other game warden’s wife. Let me start at the beginning.

Even before I became a conservation officer she encouraged me to pursue my dream. Once I knew I had became a conservation officer the real work started. The first job she took on was the feeding of baby wildlife. We were young and it was an exciting time caring for fawn deer, baby raccoons, numerous songbirds and the occasional orphaned baby skunk. She even raised a great horned owl from a downy puffball into the mature predator it was meant to be. Under Gretchen’s care, most of our orphans did very well and were able to return to the wild healthy and strong.

She also became well-versed in conservation law, not from studying the law books, but from overhearing my many conversations with people at the door or over the phone and applying what she learned. All our phone calls were put on a log next to the phone and she would answer most of them. If she did not know the answer she would refer the caller to a list of appropriate agencies she always had handy. But she would still insist that I give the person a call back. She would say, “They don’t want to hear it from some lady; they want to hear from the game warden.”

Gretchen is a great cook and this also became a means of support for me. Many a conservation officer knew that if they started or ended the day at Dick Lang’s home they were sure to get an outstanding meal. We always had many officers willing to work the salmon fishing or the waterfowl hunters due to the great hospitality that Gretchen provided. For most of my career I had a boat assigned to me and she not only provided a boxed lunch for me, she also included the officer assigned to work with me.

One of the highlights of my thirty-four year career was the opening day of the waterfowl season. We would have a detail checking the Iroquois Refuge and the Tonawanda Wildlife Management Area for waterfowl hunters and Gretchen played a huge part in making this a success. We had active and retired officers from two different regions participate and Gretchen not only provided a healthy breakfast for whoever showed up, she also set out a noon bash for all the hungry officers.

And, when I retired, Gretchen just kept going. She did the Duck Opener for five years after I retired and now, eight years post-retirement, she continues to set up lunch engagements with many of the retired officers and wives at a centrally located restaurant.

She also organizes a picnic at our home in the summer for retired families. She shows no sign of letting go of her responsibilities to the department or of forgetting all the people I worked with through the years. I would not have been as successful at my career if I had not had Gretchen by my side. She wanted the bad guys caught as much as I did and she did her part to help me do it. She was the best Mrs. Game Warden. Thanks Gretchen.

Webmaster’s Note: In the photograph below, Gretchen Lang receives long overdue recognition for her many years as a dedicated “game warden’s wife” at the NYCOA Summer Convention banquet in 2012. Presenting her gift on behalf of NYCOA is Association Secretary, Liza Bobseine. The handsome man on the right is none other than the famous game warden and author, Dick Lang.

NYCOA Summer Convention 2012

NYCOA Summer Convention 2012

The Skeleton

It was a bright sunny morning, the day after Halloween, and my job had me patrolling for waterfowl hunters in the Tonawanda Wildlife Area. I was on a paved road without any houses and kept glancing ahead for any vehicles parked in concealed areas. Rounding a curve, I noticed an old, full-size

Chevrolet backed into an abandoned driveway. Looking more closely, I noticed a young man seated behind the wheel. Stopping my patrol car, I approached the vehicle cautiously. Our conversation went something like this:

“Hi. Are you doing any hunting?”

No, just listening to the radio.”

“Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“No, I dropped out.”

“Any guns in the vehicle?”

“No.”

“Would you please open your trunk for me?”

“Yea, sure.”

With that, he put the key in the lock, the trunk opened wide and I jumped back with a start. There, looking back at me, was a full-size human skeleton. I could

not believe my eyes. In a rather shaky voice, I asked,

“Where did you get that?”

He said he got it from a friend.

“Is your friend in school?”

“No.”

But I still felt he got it from a school. I asked for his driver’s license. Putting him and the skeleton in my patrol car, we proceeded to a phone at the state game

facility where I called the high school in question. Telling the secretary I was Dick Lang, a New York State Environmental Conservation Officer, I asked her to check and see if the school was missing a skeleton. She was gone about 15 minutes. When she returned she told me, “Yes we are. It’s missing from a closet in the biology room.”

“Well, I am quite sure I have it,” I replied.

I gave the office the boy’s name and was told he was a full-time student shown absent for the day.

“I’ll bring him down with the skeleton,” I told her.

“What were you going to do with it?” I asked the

student.

“We were going to hang it from some trees in the center of town, but we got scared and never took it out of the trunk.”

As I pulled into the school parking lot, I could see the secretary waiting for us.

“Officer Lang, I will show you to the principal’s office.”

Proceeding down the hall a short distance I could see the principal waiting in front of his office.

“Officer Lang, I’ll take care of this.”

And with that he reached up, grabbed the student by the ear, pulled him into the office, and slammed the door shut behind them.

That was one of those situations you never forgot.