Park Service honors retiring ranger

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Fred Page was 18 when he met the late Ethel Kelly, owner of the antebellum Natchez mansion Melrose. The meeting would prove providential for both, as Page accepted a job from her and she came to depend heavily on his assistance as the years passed.

Fifty-three years later, Page continues his association with Melrose but as a ranger with the National Park Service. He will retire Saturday.

The Park Service will honor Page with a reception from 6 to 8 p.m. today at the Natchez Visitor Reception Center on South Canal Street. The public is invited to attend.

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&uot;The reception Tuesday will be one day before I turn 72,&uot; Page said, reminiscing about a job that has dominated his entire adult life. &uot;I started giving tours on day one after Mrs. Kelly hired me.&uot;

Telling visitors about the house and grounds became his specialty, although it was not the only task he had during the five decades at Melrose.

&uot;I did a little bit of everything for Mrs. Kelly, but touring was my favorite,&uot; he said. And that is what he will miss the most when he retires &045; the people and telling them not just about Melrose but about Natchez and how beautiful it is.

Page learned Melrose from inside out and top to bottom. He could walk through a room and tell whether anything had been moved. &uot;I knew all about the antiques,&uot; he said. &uot;Mrs. Kelly depended on me, especially as she got older. I helped to keep the place going and see about all the maintenance of the house and yard.&uot;

Page remained at Melrose to work for John and Betty Callon, when they purchased the house from Kelly heirs in 1976 after Mrs. Kelly’s death in 1975.

National Park Service officials asked Page to remain when Melrose, purchased from the Callon family in 1990, became part of the Natchez National Historical Park.

&uot;I didn’t ask them for a job,&uot; he said of the Park Service. &uot;They asked me to stay. They came to me and did a lot of taping and interviewing about all I knew about the house.&uot;

Page has not made firm plans for his retirement. He wants to travel to visit some relatives. And he may volunteer at the Senior Citizen Center.

He is a people person, he said. And he will miss talking to people and telling them what to see in Natchez during their visit. Any chance he will volunteer at the visitors center? He laughed and said he is keeping his options open.