MAMMOTH CAVE NATIONAL PARK, Ky. (AP) - Keven Neff was a middle school science teacher before he became a cave guide at Mammoth Cave National Park.
After 47 years as a guide, he is retiring.
Neff, who is originally from Ada, Ohio, started to work at the national park as a seasonal employee, working only during the summers when he wasn’t teaching.
He wasn’t hired right away. In fact, he applied for a seasonal position three times before he was actually hired.
“My first summer was 1969,” he said.
His work at Mammoth Cave fit in well with what he was teaching his students.
“I was teaching earth science. Geology and caves and all of that fit right in,” he said.
Neff worked for several years as a seasonal employee at the national park in the summers, while still teaching in Ohio.
“After I retired from teaching, we moved down here and built a house,” he said. “I was hired on as a permanent employee in 1996.”
Bobby Steenbergen has worked with Keven Neff at the national park since the 1970s.
“Keven is a great guy. Upon retirement (from teaching) he knew exactly what he was going to do,” Steenbergen said.
At the national park, Neff gave cave tours, led visitors on nature walks and conducted evening programs.
Working at Mammoth Cave was something Neff dearly loved, said his wife, Myrna.
“It was so different than his teaching experience. Down here it was different with the camaraderie between the guides. It was a completely different atmosphere,” she said, adding that the cave guides could easily cover for one another if needed.
The thing he liked best about working at Mammoth Cave, he said, was “meeting the folks from all over the world .” that and “… the nice atmosphere of being a part of the Mammoth Cave family.”
John Yakel has also worked many years with Keven Neff at the national park.
“Keven and I did the wild cave tours back in the day,” Yakel said. “He was actually my training guide when I was the novice guide. Keven is just a great guy, great personality.”
In Yakel’s personal opinion, he said Keven Neff has probably seen more of Mammoth Cave than any other cave guide or any other person alive.
“He’s probably seen over 200 miles of Mammoth Cave, so that’s quite a distinct honor,” Yakel said.
Mammoth Cave is actually 400 miles long.
“You simply can’t stump him,” Yakel said.
When on the wild cave tour, if a visitor asked Keven Neff where a certain passageway led, he could provide the information.
“He’s a pretty amazing guy,” Yakel said.
Bob Cetera started to work at the national park a couple of years after Keven Neff.
“He came in 1969. I came in 1972,” Cetera said.
While they both worked at the national park at the same time, they seldom partnered together for the same cave tours. That’s because they were both experienced cave guides, and Cetera said national park officials would often pair a more experienced cave guide with one who had less tenure, so the more inexperienced cave guide could gain more knowledge on how to give the cave tours.
“He was a model to a lot of the young guides,” Cetera said. “Keven was very approachable. If asked, he would give them advice and make them even better.”
Part of the time that Cetera worked at the national park, he was the national park’s official photographer and often times Keven Neff was the subject of his photographs, never minding to stop a tour so Cetera could snap a photo or to go back into Mammoth Cave after a tour to pose for a shot.
Cetera also said Keven Neff is “a very good storyteller.”
Whenever Keven Neff would stop a tour to talk to visitors, he “… would really make a good story.”
Bruce Powell, deputy superintendent at the national park, said in an e-mail to the Daily Times that Keven Neff is highly regarded for his extensive knowledge of Mammoth Cave history.
“We are extremely grateful for this talent and dedication over such a long period of public service,” Powell said.
Information from: Glasgow Daily Times, https://www.glasgowdailytimes.com
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