It's a short drive through a forest to get to Jim Keough's home in Tupper Lake. It's not so unusual in the Adirondacks, but in this case, Keough planted the 1,000 White Pine that are now majestically surrounding his home and the 30 acres around him.
"It was all farm land," he said with a smile. "We, my ex-wife Debbie and I, used to take our daughters around the property and make sure they could find their own way home. We didn't want them to get lost."
Keough's house is simple and comfortable as he sits down for a cup of tea. The artwork surrounding him is an assortment of nature photography. At a closer look, you realize Jim took all the prints.
Jim Keough on the summit of Rocky Point
(Photo — Sawyer Chase III)
"I picked up a camera in 1998," Keough said. "I had a great friend, an interior designer, who I worked with on a workshop for separated and divorced couples and we connected. Taking pictures allows me to be creative, to be in the moment and observant of nature. It lets me slow down and look for the little things like a cobweb or a butterfly."
What started out as an artistic outlet turned into a part-time business.
"Yes, I do sell my work online at Natureswindows.biz and a few local galleries," Keough said. "I can be out for hours with my camera and never notice the passing of the time."
Born in Johnson City, located in The Southern Tier, to a nurse and a businessman, Keough spent most of his early years in what he refers to as the Triple Cities; Binghamton, Endicott and Johnson City.
"My parents bought a hotel in Inlet in 1957 and we spent two years there," Keough said. "We lived spring, summer and fall in Inlet and two winters in Old Forge. That is when I became acquainted with the Adirondacks. And then, in 1960, we moved back to Johnson City.
"We couldn't make a living in Inlet in the wintertime so we moved back to Johnson City for the winters. It was a family operation. My mother and grandmother did all the cooking while my father, older brother and I did the maintenance. I waited tables, mashed potatoes, really, anything required of me. We did have some college kids help out as chambermaids or waiting tables, but essentially it was a family business.
"There were two buildings with just sleeping quarters, then the main lodge, which had the common dining room and living area with rooms above. Everyone ate together and then enjoyed games, ping-pong, and of course, the lake. Everything you needed, right there."
At that time, Woodholme Lodge on Seventh Lake was accessible only by water. During that time, there was no road into the lodge. Everyone and everything had to come by boat. It was basically a summer resort.
"We were not in competition with the big hotels, we only had the capacity of about 50 people while the larger establishments had upwards of 200."
Being at the lodge provided a different educational experience for Keough, introducing him to other experiences via interacting with the guests.
"At the time I didn't realize how valuable it was being around different types of people, but it made me very adaptable to any situation. I could get along with any crowd, just because I was confident that I could carry on a conversation."
During his junior year in high school, Keough read about becoming an exchange student through the Rotary International Program. "I became an exchange student for a year in Costa Rica," Keough said. "I turned 17 when I was there. At that time, I had never been out of the country. I had only taken Latin, so I had no usable foreign language skills. I lived with a family that spoke only Spanish."
In three months he was able to converse, being immersed in the local school, and in nine months he was fluent.
"It was such a great opportunity," Keough said. "On my way back, I traveled through Mexico City all by myself and felt very comfortable because of my fluency in the language. Even today that experience still affects me. I love to travel and experience new cultures. I've been back to Costa Rica since and to Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. I can pick up the language fast and still try to keep up with it."
Keough attended an extra year of high school and graduated at 18 to attend SUNY Cortland, getting his degree in secondary social studies in 1971. He and his family continued to run Woodholme Lodge, but sold it in the early 1970s when Jim was in college, keeping a small cottage on Seventh Lake for the family.
"I knew I wanted to get right into teaching" Keough said. "I look back sometimes and wonder about other opportunities, but I love to teach. I've always loved teaching. My teaching style has changed since I started in 1971." Keough came to Saranac Lake and joined his then wife Debbie, who had graduated from SUNY Cortland a year ahead of him. They had met while working on Racquette Lake for SUNY Cortland's Outdoor Education Center.
"I interviewed the day before I got married and received the job the day after I returned from our honeymoon," Keough said. "I was hired at Petrova Middle School and found my match.
"Over the years, I was able to adapt my teaching style to the students. That is one of the nice things about the group that I taught with (in Saranac Lake). My co-workers are good at bouncing ideas off of each other and saying that a particular teaching style worked for one child and not another. I always hoped I was getting through to the students. The people I worked with supported each other, which provides, I think, a good atmosphere for learning. "The camaraderie, the loyalty, the strength of the facility helped provide consistency for the students.
"Though I retired last year, I still like to go in and substitute. Every once in a while my teaching energy will get low and I'll have to get back in the classroom. It's being around the kids and getting them to discover things they didn't know or teaching something that enlightens them. I can't image never being able to teach again."
The one thing he attributes to changing the course of his life is his divorce.
"I had to stop and take a look and see what role I played in it (the separation and divorce)," Keough said. "By doing that, I didn't want to feel this way, be that way, and stay that way."
He started volunteering at the Great Camp Sagamore and continues to volunteer at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. "I like being able to look at history and see what we learn from that, to not repeat mistakes, and to do it better next time," Keough said.
"Family became important," he said. "I reconnected with my aunt and cousins. Having lost my Dad, I am more focused on my Mom. I never anticipated the role I would be playing in my own parent's life."
He went on to say how, at some age, everything switches.
"At first, people talk to friends about the children and then the growing up and then the leaving for their own experiences.
"Now the experiences and connections are about caring for our own parents. It is a whole different stage of life. How we come full circle. All of a sudden our responsibility is to keep our own parents safe. Something I wasn't prepared for, but that I take on."
Jim proudly talks about his two children and grandson. Wynde Kate is co-owner of Green Goddess Foods in Lake Placid and Sara-Beth teaches geography at Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan.
"My girls are very different, but very close and spend a lot of time together," Keough said.
His grandson turned four in August.
"I was so comfortable having girls, I wasn't sure how I would be with a grandson," he shakes his head. "My daughter is wonderful. We'll plan different times when I can spend the day with my grandson. His mother gets to go out and do things but I get to be alone with Bladen. It is a gift. Really, a gift.
"My retirement has been a work in progress and I'm still learning how to do it."
He is keeping busy substitute teaching, playing golf and perfecting his photography skills. As an ordained deacon in the Catholic Church, Keough is very involved in his parish in Tupper Lake and Inlet/Old Forge. He continues to spend the summers in Inlet and back in Tupper Lake in the winter. "This summer was my 51st summer in Inlet," he acknowledged. "I am a part of both communities, but I love being at the lake and being outdoors. That is my home. I truly feel that."
This information in this story was based on an interview with Jim Keough.