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Retired Saxonburg couple spend summers volunteering across country

| Monday, July 4, 2011

Tom Patterson knows the secret to his happy marriage.

Lots of love, staying active, and -- perhaps most importantly -- his wife's interest in going across the country in a recreational vehicle.

"I was fortunate," the Saxonburg resident said with a smile, "she was willing to travel in a trailer." Albeit a 38-foot-long trailer, he said, with all the comforts of home.

Since they married in 2002, Tom, 78, and Katie, 75, spent the summers in a state or national park to participate in the Volunteer in the Parks -- or VIP -- program.

The retired couple have jumped into their Dodge 3500 pickup with the Keystone Everest trailer in tow to meet and greet. Their destinations included Acadia National Park in Maine, Custer State Park in South Dakota, Olympic National Park in Washington and Mistletoe State Park in Georgia. They've worked in park offices and visitor centers, and on campgrounds where they've hosted and checked in campers.

Though far from home, Katie said they never felt alone. There's a sense of camaraderie between travelers, she said.

"You never meet a stranger," she said. "They're all just very friendly people. We send out hundreds of Christmas cards."

Katie's favorite destination was Custer State Park in South Dakota, where the buffalo not only roamed, she said, but were rubbing right up against their trailer.

Last winter, they traded their pickup and trailer for a car.

This is the first summer they are staying put. But they're still volunteering. The couple works at the Saxonburg Public Library and at their church, St. Luke's Lutheran in Saxonburg.

"We want to get 25 years in together," Tom said, "so we want to keep active rather than in a rocking chair on the porch."

Tom and Katie Patterson

Ages : Tom, 78; Katie, 75.

Hometown : Saxonburg.

Family : Tom, two daughters and a son; Katie, two sons and a daughter.

Favorite thing about the Valley : The friendliness of the people.

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