Russell Ramsey is president of the Lake Henry Canal Improvement Association. How he was elected to this position requires a look into his fascinating past. And what he and the group he leads accomplish will have a positive effect on the future of Lake Henry and the 100-plus home owners who call this small lake their little corner of paradise.
To appreciate this leader who currently resides on Lake Henry one needs to learn of Ramsey’s national and international accomplishments. It began in the tenth grade at Sandusky, Ohio High School.
“My father was a Major General in the Army and I wanted to follow in his footsteps,” said Ramsey. He felt there was little chance to get into West Point by staying in Ohio, so he applied for school at Staunton Military Academy in Virginia to complete his last two years of high school. From there he competed with 300 other young men for 10 slots open at West Point. “I was fifth and not only was offered the chance to attend West Point, but also Annapolis, the Coast Guard Academy and even Princeton. I chose West Point and eventually graduated from there in 1957 with a degree in engineering.”
His military assignment took him to Latin America where he developed a lifelong love for the area. He met Bobby Kennedy while teaching jungle tactics to the military. “Kennedy was really informed, unlike so many politicians today,” commented Ramsey.
His work and experience in Latin America eventually led to writing 24 books and receiving his first Ph.D. from the University of Florida. His thesis “Guerrilleros y Soldados” was published in Spanish and was so popular it went to a second printing and was a sellout in Colombia.
“My life experience eventually led to various professorships. I currently teach via computer at Norwich University in Vermont. It is the oldest military college in the country. Over the years I have taught over 1,000 students, offering courses like, ‘Economics of Development, ‘Sociology of Conflict’ and ‘Conflict Management in Backward Counties’,” said Ramsey.
Not satisfied with one Ph.D., Ramsey also completed a second doctorate in ministry from Trinity Seminary in Newburgh, Ind. “I now teach Sunday school and solo in the choir at (Lake Placid’s) First Presbyterian Church,” said Ramsey. His religious background helped him author a trilogy of novels, “A Lady, A Champion,” “A Lady, A Healer,” and “A Lady, A Peacemaker.”
With this amazing military career and accomplishments too numerous to mention in this story, one wonders what other talent brought Ramsey to accept the presidency of the small Lake Henry Association.
“I was once elected as a member of the Gainesville City Commission and Regional Utilities Operating Board. Being on that board brought me into regular communication with department staff,” said Ramsey. He feels that experience will help develop good rapport and communication between the association and various Highland County departments in order to solve the current canal situation.
“I looked out my window in 2009 and saw that my dock was halfway out of the water and the canal between the lake was dry dirt,” he said. “I felt that something needed to be done to assure that the canal between Lake Henry and Lake June would never be dry again because that would turn the beautiful homes on Lake Henry into fishing shanties.”
Lake Henry Association was started in 2001 by Dana and Betty Hurlbut when canal issues at that time required a unified group of homeowners to seek help from the county. Then, in 2008, the lake was getting very low and in 2009 there was no water in the canal. Silt from Lake June went into Lake Henry and clogged the canal. There was a rising bottom and a sinking top. The canal needs at least two and one half feet of water depth for navigation.
The long term plan seen by Ramsey is to rebuild the bridge three feet higher; dredge one foot on Lake Henry and two feet on Lake June and then place a concrete floor and spoiler. “Actually this is what they did to make the Panama Canal navigable,” he said.
“It’s going to take some money, about $750,000. We need a ‘hit’ man to holler and scream,” exclaimed Ramsey.
Ultimately it will increase — or at least protect — the tax base for the county. If Lake Henry becomes landlocked it will simply become a fishing lake and lot values will decrease. There are more than 100 homes on Lake Henry. The value of a $370,000 home will decrease to $280,000 if the canal were not navigable. “That will mean a 25 to 30 percent decrease in taxes paid just for one home,” Ramsey explained. “Multiply that by 100 homes and you see tremendous loss in taxes to the county. That’s quite a piece of change.” And that doesn’t take into account the homes in Tomoka Heights with lake access. Ramsey and his Lake Henry Association continue to seek sources to cover the cost of dredging. It may require federal funds or a one-time assessment. As of this week there is just enough water in the canal for a pontoon or runabout to make it into Lake June. Ramsey wants to be sure the canal is navigable even when the area experiences another drought.
Currently the association produces a newsletter to keep the public and the lake property owners updated. It is also recruiting as many new association members as possible. Cost is $10.00, a small beginning, but a start in making the canal open and the county tax base secure.
At 78 years young, Russell Ramsey has had a storied and successful career. There is an old saying that “Success Leaves Clues.” Looking at Ramsey’s past success, the association seems to be in the hands of a man who can “get ‘er done!”
To find out more or to join the Lake Henry Association, email Ramsey at RWRRSRRRR@aol.com.