Return is start of new 'good experience'
First in a series of stories on residents who have returned to Marion County.
Returning somewhere you might have daydreamed about leaving might seem the last choice an adventuring soul could make, but returning to Marion kickstarted great things for Isaac Hett, who made a home in his hometown after years of wandering.
“I do enjoy what I do out here,” said Hett, Marion County Lake supervisor. “I enjoy the lake and I enjoy the people. It’s been a good experience for me.”
Hett graduated Marion High School in 2010 and majored in wildlife enterprise management at Kansas State University.
After graduation, Hett was offered the opportunity of a lifetime — a position as manager of Tower Rock Lodge in Kenai, Alaska.
Hett quickly took to the state and the staff.
“I loved Alaska. I really did,” Hett said. “Summers were beautiful and the guys I worked with... It was almost like a family.”
Hett would lead river and ocean fishing expeditions for tourists to catch salmon, halibut, and trout from May until October.
Staff worked seven days a week. Hett would often wake at 3:30 or 4 a.m. and work until 9 p.m. or later.
The off-season gave Hett and his co-workers the opportunity to spend months fishing in Belize and Thailand, where one of his managers had a condominium.
“We would all travel and spend our money, and then go back up there (to Alaska) and do it again,” he said.
Hett learned to speak “very basic” Thai during off-season trips, but said many Thai people knew English.
The group hit Bangkok and flew to some of Thailand’s small islands and fishing villages during their travels, eventually drifting into Cambodia, which was “less touristy” but still fun.
“I never realized that it’s a big vacation spot for Europeans and Australians,” he said. “I met a lot of Europeans over there that were on holiday, which I was not expecting, but it was a pleasant surprise.”
Hett happily lived out of suitcases for nearly three years and considered moving to Alaska permanently when he had a change of heart.
White nights above the polar circle helped Hett cope with long hours during the tourist season, but the endless night of Alaska’s winters didn’t suit him.
The sky would stay dark until 11:30 a.m. when the sun would break the horizon and sink by 3:30 p.m.
Seasonal work and living out of suitcases was also beginning to wear on him.
Hett returned to Kansas in the spring of 2017 to see family and bumped into KayCee Robinson, a former high school classmate, in Manhattan.
He decided to return to Kansas that October instead of traveling with his buddies.
Although Hett’s parents and extended family still live in the Marion area, Hett said he did not necessarily plan to settle down here.
However, when he spotted an open position for lake superintendent, he decided to apply.
“I loved coming to the lake growing up and I loved fishing,” he said. “I saw it was open, so I figured I would at least apply to see if it was something that would be a possibility. And sure enough, I was offered the position.”
Hett called his boss in March and told him he was leaving, but the owner took it well. Hett got along well with staff and lasted as long as many people do in a seasonal position.
“It’s an interesting lifestyle,” Hett said. “It’s a lot of moving around and not really having a place to call home. And so that was one thing that intrigued me about coming back here.”
Hett reconnected with Robinson and proposed on her 24th birthday in January of 2019, during a trip to the Dominican Republic. The couple wed in Wichita that November.
After two years, Hett feels he is settling into the position, but says he has a different perspective of life at the lake than he had as a high-schooler who liked to fish.
“When I was younger, you know, we’d get into trouble for coming out here and doing things we weren’t supposed to,” he said. “And now I see that this is frustrating for whoever is here.”
Full-time, year-round work is a welcome change, he said. He and the staff have plenty of projects planned for the slower winter months.
They plan to repair picnic tables and put up old solar light poles from Main St. in places that lack electricity.
The Lake Hall is looking a little outdated, as are the bathroom and shower house, he said.
Hett is also working on getting new playground equipment.
In the long term, Hett would love to treat the lake’s waters for blue-green algae. Chemical solutions being tested at other lakes are showing real promise, he said.
“In my opinion right now, that is the one thing that is really hurting us,” he said. “And it’s not just us, it’s lakes all over the country that are suffering from it.
“But it’s really hard to get people to come out to the lake when they have to worry about the water being toxic.”
Running a year-round operation has been a learning experience, as well as hosting events like the bluegrass festival and chili cookoff, but Hett says that keeps the job interesting.
“Every day out here is something new,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen and you are always looking for things that you can improve.”
Last modified Oct. 15, 2020