Lake Panorama Retiree Shares Passion for Trees
By Susan Thompson
Ron Eike loves trees, so much so that his catchphrase is “Life under a tree is a shade better.” For more than 10 years, he’s been sharing that love by donating and planting trees throughout Guthrie County.
Ron and his wife Shirley purchased a home at Lake Panorama in 1999. At the time, he was a corporate executive with Omaha Steaks.
“We were looking for a vacation property where we could enjoy family vacations, and also looking ahead to retirement,” Eike says. “Living in Omaha, we wanted a place close enough for frequent visits. When we looked at Lake Panorama, we realized we had found Iowa’s best kept secret.”
The couple has five children and 10 grandchildren. “The grandkids have grown up here at Lake Panorama,” Eike says. “It was really important for us to have a place everyone enjoyed coming to visit. We love the lake, the community, and the people. It’s truly been an awesome decision to buy a home here.”
Soon after getting settled in their vacation home, the couple’s oldest son Joshua suggested Ron purchase some property and plant trees. “I’ve always done my own landscaping, and Joshua knew I love trees,” Eike says. “And I was starting to think about what I’d do once I retired.”
Ron purchased 11 acres along Highway 4 near Yale in February 2002. “It was pretty rundown,” he says. “We removed brush and fence lines, got five acres cleared, and planted 2,000 trees that year. Each year we cleared more land and added trees, until we had planted 12,000 trees.”
It took four years for the property to be fully planted to trees, and for the first trees to be harvested and marketed. Soon customers throughout Iowa were buying from the Wood Duck Tree Farms. It wasn’t long before more expansion occurred.
“Our landscape customers started asking for shrubs, grasses and perennials, so we added those, and became a single-source supplier,” Eike says. “We began to purchase these products wholesale, plus started sourcing trees from growers as far away as Oregon, Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to add to what we were growing ourselves.”
As demand for landscape assistance continued to grow, Eike decided further expansion was in order. Wood Duck Landscape Solutions is entering its third season, and offers hardscaping, landscaping and site work. The majority of customers are at Lake Panorama, but the company also does work in the Des Moines area and elsewhere.
Joshua Eike, who first suggested the idea of growing and selling trees, is general manager of the landscape group and lives at the tree farm.
Eike’s penchant for donating and planting trees in the local area began as a way to honor the grandmother of some of his hired help. “Bertha Deardorff lived in Yale,” Eike says. “Three of her grandsons and one granddaughter worked for me at the tree farm, and she used to drive out in her pickup truck and watch them work.”
Deardorff died at the age of 98 at the New Homestead in Guthrie Center. Eike offered to plant some trees at the facility, and the Bertha Deardorff Memorial Park was born. Later, New Homestead personnel asked Eike to donate some additional trees, which he did. Since then, trees from the Wood Duck Tree Farms have been purchased to memorialize others who lived at New Homestead.
Eike’s next projects were at Lake Panorama. “I asked John Rutledge, the LPA general manager, if I could ‘tree up’ Boulder Beach at no charge, and he readily agreed. We planted trees there over two years, and it has really turned out to be a beautiful area at the beach,” he says.
The next year, Eike donated and planted trees along the entrance to Burchfield Cove. In 2012, he donated 10 trees to help fill in along the roadside at the main west entrance of Lake Panorama, additional donations were sought, and the entire West entrance was tree-lined.
At about the same time, he contacted the City of Panora for permission to donate and plant some trees on the town square park surrounding the Panora Community Center, Vet’s Auditorium and the library.
A couple of years ago, the idea for a new park in Yale was hatched. Two high school students from the area, Walker and Paige Kipp, were Wood Duck summer employees when their grandfather passed away.
“Both Gene Kipp and Walker and Paige’s parents were neighbors of our tree farm,” Eike says. “We started to talk about turning a city-owned vacant lot into a park to honor Gene. The Yale City Council voted to rezone the lot for a park. The family decided they wanted it to be a park embraced by everyone. So both the city and the Kipp family approved naming it the Yale Memorial Park.”
After getting trees planted at the Yale Memorial Park, Eike also planted a row of trees along the road near the Yale Cemetery where Gene Kipp was buried. “I wanted Gene to rest eternally under the shade of beautiful Red Oak trees,” Eike says.
Last year, the Guthrie County Fair Board asked Eike to consider renovating an area of the fairgrounds that had been used for community projects, but now was overrun with brush and weeds. Eike agreed.
“The space has been reborn as a new and improved fairgrounds community park. Some bench seating and continued improvements are planned,” he says. Eike also added new trees along Highway 44 at the fairgrounds, to as he says, “give the fairgrounds a more park-like setting.”
What motivates Eike to be so generous with his trees?
“I enjoy seeing people enjoy trees,” he says. “I like to think about the fact that 50 years from now, people will still be enjoying the trees I’ve planted. It’s my long-term commitment to the betterment and beautification of a community I love. And while this is already a very generous community, perhaps my desire to give back will motivate others to do the same.”
Eike retired from Omaha Steaks on his 66th birthday. Six years later, he’s busier than ever.
“I started the Wood Duck business so I’d have something to do in retirement, and because I enjoy trees and landscaping,” he says. “But I also saw this as an opportunity to provide meaningful, good paying jobs for high school and college students from Panorama and Guthrie Center.”
The business has four fulltime employees, with six seasonal employees added each year.
“The students who work for us are learning real life skills,” Eike says. “One of my passions is mentoring young people about business. We’ve had many young employees who have gone on to college and now are successful in various areas of business. It’s fun to help young people choose a career in business that interests them.”
One young person working in the Wood Duck business is Jack Eike, the 16-year-old son of Joshua, and grandson of Ron and Shirley. “He comes from Frisco, Texas, on spring breaks and during the summers, so now we’re a three-generation business,” Ron says. Other grandchildren also work at the farm when they come to enjoy the lake in summertime.
While Joshua lives at Yale, the other four Eike children are scattered across the country in Washington, Oregon, Ohio and Minnesota. “Each year they all come back to Lake Panorama at the same time for a week or two,” Ron says. “We’re grateful this continues to be a family gathering place for all our family, even after nearly 20 years.”
More information about Eike’s Wood Duck Tree Farms and landscaping business is available online at www.woodducklandscapesolutions.com.