Serving as a chaplain in the United States Air Force, Cecil Richardson was on the move for many years – sometimes with Jan, his wife, and their three sons – sometimes without. Yet he wasn’t going to let an on-the-go career keep him from his dream of owning land.
“My earliest memories are of walking in the woods with my father. He would point out ginseng and I would dig it up. My father was a hunter, fisher, worked at saw mills, so I had it in my blood,” explains Cecil.
Approaching retirement, Jan and Cecil yearned for a place they could call their own. “We wanted to be able to go on a long walk without trespassing!” says Jan. While Colorado was their first choice, they quickly realized their retirement dollars could go a lot further in Richland County, Wisconsin, where Cecil’s mother and two brothers lived.
In 2007 they purchased 90 wooded acres north of Richland Center. A few years later, an opportunity to purchase a neighboring property arose. The widowed landowner told them it was a tree farm. “We asked, ‘What’s that?’” Cecil recalls.
The couple bought the property, including the homestead, for a total of 265 acres. Their timing coincided with a nearby field day put on by the Wisconsin Woodland Owners Association (WWOA). This event was a great learning opportunity and stepping stone for the Richardsons. There, they met Richland County DNR forester Jake Elder and Bad Axe chapter members John and Rita Hoffmann.
By the end of the field day, the Richardsons were new members of WWOA and the local chapter, and had a standing invitation to walk their new property with the forester when they moved to Wisconsin permanently.
Staying informed from far away
Back in D.C. to finish out Cecil’s term as chief of Air Force chaplains, the Richardsons received a postcard from My Wisconsin Woods. The card offered an opportunity to work with a Woodland Advocate, a local, experienced volunteer who helps landowners connect to the resources that can best help their woods. And the mailing featured, who else, but John and Rita Hoffmann: the same couple the Richardsons had visited with at the field day over the summer.
“We saw it and thought, this is a great way to start learning. It wasn’t even a question of sitting down, pondering it. We filled it out within minutes of reading it,” says Cecil.
Despite living a thousand miles away, the Hoffmanns kept the Richardsons informed of woodland news and happenings back in Wisconsin. They mailed and emailed resources to help the Richardsons learn about their new property. “John and Rita were very good about staying in touch and offering help in any way. It was almost like they just opened up their hearts,” explains Jan.
Within their first week of living on their land permanently, Cecil met with forester Jake Elder. “He pointed out at least 20 species of trees; which plants were invasive; which trees needed to be pruned. I took my notebook with me and wrote it all down. I’ve been reading those notes ever since we took that walk together,” Cecil says.
They’ve been on their property for four months now, and in addition to getting settled in, the Richardsons are busy creating a retreat for their children and grandchildren to visit.
“I always regretted that my boys didn’t grow up with some of the things that I grew up with,” says Cecil. “They loved my hunting, fishing, walking the woods stories, but we were never able to live with them in a place like this. So we want our grandkids to experience it, if nothing else for a week or two a year.”
Jan and Cecil are enjoying the wildlife and changing of the seasons as they embark upon the action items forester Jake identified. But they couldn’t be more excited to be in the woods, learning from professionals and their woodland neighbors.
“There’s always somebody who knows more than you do,” says Jan. “The smart thing is to take their advice.”