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Ranger Kim takes us up on the roof of the park’s Administration Building, which was once part of the U.S. Navy’s 1920s-era hospital.
Kim Duclo is a park ranger — a job so connected to his identity most people know him simply as “Ranger Kim.” He gives tours and talks and knows something about just about every corner of Balboa Park.
When I asked him about his favorite place in the park a couple of months ago, he paused. He seemed overwhelmed at the thought of picking one. But when I narrowed the question to a place and a time, he piped up.
“The park at first light in the morning or late at night,” he said.
Duclo’s used to considering light. He studied communication and visual arts at UC San Diego, and worked for more than a decade preparing exhibits at the Museum of Photographic Arts in the park.
Sam Hodgson met him one late afternoon this week just before the daylight faded. They went up to the rooftop of the park’s Administration Building, which houses Duclo’s office and those of other park staffers. The building was once part of the U.S. Navy’s original 1920s-era hospital before the hospital expanded and moved over to Florida Canyon.
I love this story of how Duclo snagged his job as a park ranger, which he shared with The Old Globe when he appeared in its production of “Odyssey” last year:
One day, I was walking across the park, and somebody flagged me down for about the 100th time and said, “Hey, how do I get to this museum?” As I was helping guide them across the park, I thought what I had was an epiphany: “This park needs park rangers! And I could be that person.” I actually started to compose a letter to then-Mayor Susan Golding: “I think I would be an ideal person for a job that does not yet exist.”
Literally within a week, before I delivered this letter, somebody drove down the main part of the park in a park ranger’s vehicle. I was flabbergasted, like, “They’ve stolen my job!” I ran after this truck and banged on the side door and said, “There’re park rangers in Balboa Park?” And this gentleman said, “Well, yeah. I just got hired about two months ago. And I’m it.” I go, “You’re kidding me. I would love to do what you’re doing. What would I need to do?” He basically said, “Nah, I’m the only one. There’s not really anything you can do.” Very disheartening.
So I shrugged, went back to my old job for months and then, lo and behold, somebody else drives down and it’s a female ranger! I go, “There’s another one of you? The other gentleman told me they we weren’t hiring.” She goes, “I don’t know that that’s true. You could come volunteer with me if you wanted to.” So, I started volunteering with her.
… It’s a long story but, back in 1996, I got hired and ended up working for that guy who told me there would never be another ranger job. I’ve been here ever since. I feel so lucky that I have this job because so many things in San Diego happen in Balboa Park. Especially because we have this wonderful climate, it’s sort of our City Hall, everything comes through here: visual arts, performing arts, political figures. It’s just a perfect hub of activity.
I’m Kelly Bennett, reporter for Voice of San Diego. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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