People of the Parks: Ron Raplee, Camp Host

Ron Raplee in the artillery museum

Ron Raplee gives a personalized tour through the Coast Artillery Museum at Fort Worden State Park.

Meet Ron, the ad hoc mayor of of Fort Worden

If you’ve spent an afternoon touring the military museums at Fort Worden or Fort Flagler, there’s a good chance you’ve run into their ad hoc mayor Ron Raplee.

For the past six-or-so years, Ron, his wife Suzann and their dog Puddles have served Washington State Parks as camp hosts and volunteers. They’ve traveled all across the state and supported several parks, but Fort Worden and Fort Flagler are their home base.

“I love both of them,” Ron said. “I have the best time doing what I do.”

An understatement, to say the least.

Ron Raplee in the artillery museum

Ron inspects a model shell in the Coast Artillery Museum at Fort Worden State Park.

Ron lights up with a grin and enthusiastic, “Hello! Welcome in!” with every new footstep that crosses the threshold into the Coast Artillery Museum at Fort Worden. It’s hard to catch him spending too much time behind the front desk. Instead, he’s walking with guests and providing personal tours through the museum, excitedly pointing out different collections and detailing their histories.

He shows off old weaponry, let’s guests in the local histories of how pieces came to reside in the museum, demonstrates how the spotlights were used – a tour he’s done thousands of times, but never with any less enthusiasm.

“Where else can a one-legged old fart have more fun?” Ron laughed.

Originally from the Bothell area, Ron traveled all over the world before settling into retirement. He served in the Navy for six years and completed tours as a submarine tender in Sardinia, Italy and service on a 900 ft. Destroyer during the Vietnam War, which took him to Australia and Da Nang, Vietnam.

“I’ve had some great adventures,” he said.

But it’s hard to imagine Ron happier anywhere else.

Ron Raplee in the artillery museum

Ron points to historic photographs on the wall in the Coast Artillery Museum during a tour. 

Making a difference...and having fun doing it

Ron has been one of the driving forces behind the completion of several projects throughout the forts, including a renovation to update the lighting in the museums and repainting the walls to match more closely to what they would have looked like when soldiers lived in the area over 70 years ago. He helped develop the torpedo net display at Fort Flagler, updated many of the rooms, and is a major contributor to upcoming efforts to enhance and expand interpretive services at Fort Worden.

He said he’s constantly finding new pieces stored away and forgotten in batteries and supply closets or donated from local families. Each new item presents more opportunities to research and learn.

Ron credits Greg Hagge, the Coast Artillery Museum director, with helping him build his extensive breadth of knowledge, saying that even he only knows a fraction of everything Greg has stored in his brain. But watching Ron gives his tours, that’s hard to believe.

“I get to learn so many different things,” Ron said. “It’s so much fun.”

Still, his favorite part of being a camp host and volunteer is the opportunity to connect with all of the people who come through the museum.

“I like to be able to pass on the knowledge,” Ron said. “It’s especially fascinating to talk to the young Army guys who come through and see their eyes go wide when they see how things used to be done – no computers or fancy gear and not a lot of protective equipment!”

Parks is grateful for Ron and his service to our country and our parks. His enthusiasm and dedication are part of what makes our parks fun and memorable places for our communities.

Fort Worden

Battery Putnam at Fort Worden State Park