Home is where the heart is. For park manager Stephanie Ison that home is Brookville Lake. The Brookville native is proud to have spent her entire career—more than 16 years—serving the community she loves.
“It is the biggest honor I could ever imagine to be able to manage this lake,” said Ison, whose ties to the Corps of Engineers and the lake project run deep. “My childhood is packed full of joy from recreating here and experiencing nature.”
“I really do feel that the creation of this lake is the reason for my existence and I don’t take that lightly,” said Ison. “I believe I am supposed to be here, giving back, in this manager’s seat.”
In fact, Ison credits her whole existence to the creation of Brookville Lake as her parents met because of the construction of the lake in the late 1960s.
Her Corps lineage began with Ison’s step-grandmother, Nan Shipman, who worked for the Corps of Engineers for 34 years. Nan worked many places all over the country for the Corps, but in the late 1960s she settled in Brookville, serving as the secretary for the Resident Engineer Office during the construction of the reservoir. Her husband, Clifford, was working for a contractor as a rebar technician building the dam and it was at that time that Ison’s father, age 18, moved from Texas to Indiana to live with Nan and Clifford to find work.
“My dad, Dwayne Shipman, got a job working at a local concrete plant associated with the lake’s construction where he met my mother Linda who was working as a secretary,” said Ison.
After her father’s death when she was 18, Ison set her mother up on a blind date with David Stutzman, the chief of maintenance at Brookville Lake. Stutzman, who also had many family members working at the Louisville District’s lakes, locks and dams, soon married Ison’s mother and played a large role in shaping her career choices.
“When I graduated from college, my step-dad was instrumental in connecting me to the Corps of Engineers and teaching me to do things that I now love,” said Ison.
Ison obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Recreation and Parks Management and an Associates in Business Foundations from Indiana University before starting work as a temporary seasonal park ranger at Brookville Lake in 2003.
She spent her first years as a seasonal ranger helping the project office to increase visitation by enhancing the visitor’s center with displays and conducting numerous outreach and interpretive services among many other duties.
“I began hosting field trips, tours, and went to local events as a face for the Corps,” said Ison. “I got to do so much in a small window of time and I absolutely loved it.”
Ison never looked back. Thirteen years later in December 2016, she was promoted to park manager of Brookville Lake and of West Fork Lake in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Serving in the dual role as manager of both lakes in the Miami River Area – one in Indiana and one in Ohio—presents unique challenges.
“It is certainly not easy to manage two different lakes in two different states an hour apart,” said Ison. “If I had a clone, I would love to be at both of my lakes every day, but I do my best with the high priorities and go where I am needed the most on any given day.”
Between the two lakes, Ison manages a staff of eight employees who make it all work seamlessly. “I have great skilled staff that work at both of these projects,” said Ison.
Ison’s says her strong work ethic is a testament to how she was raised.
“I was given chores and responsibilities at a young age,” said Ison. “I began my first paid job at age 14. Nothing has ever been handed to me on a silver platter. I worked five jobs during my college years to put myself through college. I have worked hard to attain and earn everything I have accomplished in life,” she said.
“Hands down, I have been raised by the strongest woman on the planet,” Ison said, of her mother who has battled aggressive breast cancer twice and is a 23-year cancer survivor.
“When I grew up I realized how she shaped me to do what was unusual for most young ladies,” said Ison. “I loved walking around barefoot and getting my hands dirty. I am not one to have pretty nails because I am happier with dirt in mine. I love being like my mom, doing jobs that you just don’t see many women doing.”
In a field primarily dominated by males, Ison never let that hold her back from her dreams.
“I don’t look at my success as a female manager being a gender thing. I look at it as a person who grew up doing hard labor and work, like my mom, that happens to be in a field dominated by males. This career that I am in has few females in the position that I hold,” said Ison. “That doesn’t bother me at all. What matters to me is that I get to have an amazing job doing many things that I like to do.”
Ison hopes to be a role model for other women seeking to be park managers in the future.
“Challenge yourself to not get trapped in the mindset of not taking a job because you are female and feel it is a typical man’s job. In the Corps of Engineers you are capable of being a leader as a woman. Typical stereotypes or job roles of women are becoming a thing of the past,” said Ison. “In today’s day and future generations, the sky is the limit. If you want something, make it happen.
“If you believe in yourself and you believe that you can make a difference, then there are no limits to what you can accomplish,” Ison said.