Road Trip Dad - Giving Thanks – in memory of one of my first influential employers
Dan Witmer | November 23, 2020
This is just barely a lacrosse story.

I was 16 years old when Marty Seaman hired me to be the assistant cook at the summer camp she co-owned with her husband, Bob, and their partners Jac and Mary Kramer. Rawhide Ranch, located in Lake Hill, NY – just down the road apiece from Woodstock, on Rt. 212 – was a Western riding camp, where each 10-16 year-old Rancher was assigned his or her own horse for five or eight weeks.

While Bob oversaw “the barn staff,” Marty – nee Martha Jean Allen, of Camillus NY – was in charge of “the hill staff” – the kitchen and wait staff, the lifeguard, the camp nurse, a “mother’s helper,” and the athletic directors. She ran the main office and spent many hours every day on the phone, putting out one figurative fire after another.

Here’s the lacrosse link: Bob Seaman was the younger brother of my lacrosse and soccer coach at Lynbrook HS – Tony Seaman. Few people know that, before he became the only coach to take three different D-I schools to the Final Four, before he was inducted into numerous Halls of Fame, before he coached a US team to a gold medal in the 1994 FIL World Championships, and before his current stints as head coach at both the Saint Andrews School (FL) and the MLL’s Denver Outlaws, Tony also worked at Rawhide Ranch; he was the foreman of the barn, and first-in-command whenever Bob wasn’t present (because he was often running the back-hoe, or making trips with the horse truck, or overseeing maintenance, etc.).

If memory serves correct, I was paid $65 a week to be the assistant cook in the Ranch’s kitchen, where I would work side by side with 73-year-old Harold Jones, a retired US Cavalry cook and former chef at the Waldorf Astoria (yes, I said US Cavalry and Waldorf Astoria). That was my first year. As things would work out, I spent six summers – from the summer before my junior year of high school through the summer of 1982, after I graduated from Oswego State, working as a two-man dynamo with Harold Jones – and he was still working there after I moved on…

But this isn’t about Harold, or even Tony (those could be books of their own someday!). This is about Marty Seaman, who passed away two weeks ago at the age of 72. She and Bob owned and operated Rawhide Ranch with the Kramers from 1972 through 1985 so, while I was there for seven summers in all (my last year not as the assistant cook, but as a member of the barn staff – another potential book!), I missed out on the first few years, as well as the finale. Instead, I was there for what I’ll describe as Rawhide’s heyday. Seven summers of laughs, loves, horses, and grilled cheese sandwiches. Life-long friends and memories. Campfires, staff-rancher switch days, garbage duty, and cracking 180 eggs for the next day’s French toast.

To think that I was just 16 that first year, and yet half of the work force that fed some 175 people three times a day for eight weeks… all under the watchful eye of Marty Seaman.

If there was one lifelong lesson I learned working for Marty, is that in the long run, it’s always worth the extra effort to simply do it right the first time. Whether it was washing pots and pans, mopping the floor at the end of the day, or helping keep track of inventory – I learned the value of being reliable and accountable.

With each summer, I was expected to assume more and more responsibility. Marty had a good feel for how much I could handle, and now, in some 40 years’ hindsight, I can easily list the other lessons I learned under her watch… Marty helped convince me that there had to be a written plan. Our daily tasks in the kitchen followed the detailed menu she had hand-written on pages hanging on a clipboard by the doorway. It’s not too much of a reach to compare that eight-week menu to my years of writing a teacher’s lessons plans and/or a coach’s practice plans.

I learned to work with others. The Rawhide staff came from all over the United States. Typically, the hill staff was from Lynbrook, Lake Hill, and Georgia, while the barn staff came from western and mid-western states, faraway places like Indiana, Michigan, Oregon, Colorado, Utah, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa. I loved meeting new people and made many life-long friends.

I learned to be independent. Harold had Sundays off, so they let a 16-year-old kid run the show (with a little help from Marty, or Bob, or Jac). Sunday breakfasts were optional and more of the “continental” type, but Sunday dinners were roast beef, potatoes, veggies, and dessert – the works. Sunday dinners were simpler – burgers served outdoors with all the fixins, macaroni salad, chips, etc… more of the low-skilled work that was right up my alley. I spent a good deal of time working alone in the kitchen, but in those formative years – ages 16-22 – I couldn’t have received a better career or character education.

I learned the value in knowing my inventory. Sure, I had to have enough hamburger rolls for Sunday night, but I also needed bread for Monday morning and hot dog rolls for Monday’s lunch – and the bread man only made deliveries on Fridays and Tuesdays. The sooner I became accurately aware of what we had and what we needed, the more valuable I became (and we also had deliveries from the milk guy, the meat and produce guy, and the egg guy). Knowing what you are going to need, and knowing what you already have, are skills that could probably help in any career.

I learned to be humble and self-evaluate. Maybe I was dragging because I had stayed out too late the night before. Maybe I had cut some corners in cleaning the walk-in. I made my share of mistakes, but I tried hard to learn from them and never make the same mistake twice. I mean, only once did I almost blow up the kitchen while trying to light the grill, and only once did I accidentally cut the cord to the slicer with the exposed blade when I tipped it up – while it was still plugged in – to clean underneath it (picture sparks, a burning smell, and an expensive but now unusable slicing blade with a huge nick in it). Every good teacher or coach knows the value of these lessons.

I learned to be reliable. At Rawhide, every staff member was accountable. That meant being on time – no excuses. Bob and Marty were employers you just didn’t want to disappoint; instead, you simply wanted to please them. I was expected to be in the kitchen every morning at 7 AM so we could serve breakfast to 175 hungry people at 8; meanwhile, the barn staff’s days often started at 5:30. For me, there was no room for error. Yes, there were days when Harold had to come and wake me up, but there weren’t many of them. And guess what? In my 33 years of teaching, I found myself getting up anywhere between 5 and 6 AM, five days a week, and I don’t recall ever being late because I overslept. Finally, if there was any one life-long personal habit I learned while working for Marty at Rawhide, it was to take pride in working long days and doing hard work. The Seamans recognized hard workers and were quick to praise those who had proven themselves worthy. I don’t remember talk of naps, or time off, or short-cuts; I remember the good-natured bragging of how many bales of hay, how many horses, how little sleep, how many grilled cheese sandwiches, and how many days of the menu I had memorized (despite Marty’s efforts to make the weekly meal plan less predictable, I learned that there was indeed a pattern, and Marty and I had an on-going, good-natured game of “Oh yeah – then tell me what’s for lunch a week from Friday, smarty pants!”).

What was “cool” those summers at Rawhide was doing your job, and doing it well – even if you’re tired, or hung-over, or doing something beyond your job description, or working before sunrise or after sundown. Getting the job done well – every day, no matter what – was what mattered. Any coach or teacher should be able to appreciate that – and to think that I started learning the value of those lessons at age 16.

With her hands full of other concerns – incoming and outgoing mail, deliveries of every kind, parental issues, non-stop phone calls, and even the occasional disciplinary situation – Marty was both omnipotent and omniscient. She knew about summer romances (staff as well as Rancher) before anyone else, and she mastered the difficult art of tough love. When I say that she ran a tight ship, I mean it in only the most complimentary way.

We didn’t really appreciate it back then, but looking back, Bob and Marty were in their 20s when they bought Rawhide Ranch, and it was their full-time job. There was plenty of pre-summer and post-summer work to do, of course, but they also spent their winters visiting the homes of prospective Ranchers (who mostly lived in the NY/NJ/CT Metropolitan area) to interview prospective Ranchers and help promote the values and expectations they held.

After selling Rawhide, Bob and Marty moved to the Fairfax VA area and then, later, to Annapolis, where Marty had a successful career in real estate. They retired and made Myrtle Beach their new home. I used to see them occasionally at NCAA Final Fours, and there was that one Rawhide Reunion back around 2001 or so when a former Rancher put together quite an evening on a Saturday evening in New Jersey (as it turned out, Oswego State played at Farmingdale that afternoon so, after the game I sent the team back home on the bus under the supervision of the coaching staff, while I rented a car, drove to Jersey, stayed overnight, and then drove back to Oswego the next day).

Rawhide alumni and former staff members have our own Facebook page (of course!) and memories and reactions have been accumulating since Marty’s passing. Most comments come from former Ranchers, who frequently recalled Marty being their “second mother” or “Mom-away-from-home”… how she took one homesick Rancher into the kitchen for ice cream late one night… how she let another crying Rancher sleep in her own bed.

It would be tempting to refer to Marty Seaman as “my first boss,” but the truth is, I had a newspaper route manager when I started delivering the New York Daily News in middle school, and I worked in two different Girl Scout camp kitchens the summers before Rawhide – but in those kitchens, I was one of about three or four workers, and I can’t really recall too many life-changing lessons-I’ll-never-forget. But at Rawhide, it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that perhaps I learned more in my seven summers in Lake Hill than I did in four years of high school and four years of college. At Rawhide, Marty was always present, often swinging through the kitchen several times throughout the day, and always available in the main office if I had a question.

That was Marty. Ranchers (and staff!) were afraid to mess up and let her down, but they (we) loved how she loved them (us). She shared in every joy and was always there to console anyone who needed a shoulder. She expected – and usually got – the best out of everyone, and there are 14 summers’ worth of former Ranchers and staff who will miss her dearly… and I will always appreciate the confidence and trust she showed in me.

Thanks, Marty Seaman. You will be forever remembered, and forever missed.

Happy Thanksgiving, readers! Whether you’re heading over the river, through the woods, or simply sitting this one out this year – please drive carefully. Stay safe, stay smart, and stay kind.

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.