So many of us look back on our adolescent summers with fondness, or even as the best years of my life. Some spent their summers on a baseball diamond, helping with the family farm, working in the local ice cream shop, or helping at summer camp. And like myself, a lucky few returned to the shores of Lake Erie to work for the NRA Range Operations at Camp Perry.
My days at Camp Perry included arriving at 4 A.M. to unlock the range gates, handling thousands of targets, surveying every hole of that pistol fence, reconnecting with old friends and making new ones … those were the best summers of my life. It’s a place where life lessons are learned: how to use a hammer, respect, hard work, leadership, and teamwork. As part of NRA Range Operations I spent seven summers learning from and working for Mr. Joe DeCosta at Camp Perry, a man that many affectionately refer to as simply “Mr. D.”
Mr. D got his start in the Marine Corps at the age of 19, served honorably for 26 years, and competed on the Marine Corp pistol and rifle teams, earning distinguished badges with both. Following his notable career as a Marine, Mr. D signed on to serve as the Assistant Range Engineer where he learned the ropes of the job. His shooting knowledge in multiple disciplines, keen leadership, team work, and “say yes first” mentality made him well suited for the position. He knows the ranges, the people, what it takes to make competitors happy, what it means to work together as a team, and he knows how to educate. His work ethic and values have shined through his teaching and leadership for over three decades. As the old saying goes, next to every great man is an amazing woman, and Mr. D was no different. His late wife of 63 years, Jeanne, accompanied him to Camp Perry for many summers and spent 18 years managing the NRA Entry Office.
Last year, 2014 marked Mr. D’s final year working at Camp Perry. This year as the ranges are meticulously groomed and the shooters arrive, he will be enjoying a well-deserved retirement. Many will feel his absence, and many more will not… and this is because he did his job so well. He and his crews are the ghosts of the ranges, the ones who make sure all is in place and every detail attended to. They arrive well before the sun rises over the lake and leave after every shooter has cleared the range. Despite Mother Nature, budgets, and resources they ensure every match starts on time, every day, and every year. If you’ve never noticed Mr. D or his Range Ops Crews during the past 31 years then they have done their job well. If you have, I hope you’ve thanked them. The National Matches wouldn’t be possible without them.
We now must say goodbye to Mr. D, as he takes on retirement to spend quality time with his family and friends. If numbers tell a story, then he has a pretty grand one to tell―26 years serving in the Marine Corps, 31 years as the NRA Range Engineer at Camp Perry, and the hundreds, maybe thousands, of employees whom he has mentored. Most importantly, he leaves us to spend his summer days with his six children, 18 grandchildren, 28 great-grandchildren and one soon to be great-great grandchild.
Mr. D we thank you for your many years of service and leadership and we wish you all the happiness in the world. You have left your mark on the ranges at Camp Perry, and on so many of us who have worked for you and with you. You will be missed, but most of all, you will be remembered.