Interview With Paul Zumwalt
This interview was in 2001 3rd Quarter Newsletter by Roger Rowlett on the occasion of Paul receiving the club’s top award during the convention in Maryland.
Paul Zumwalt would hardly seem the type of man one would expect to receive the Highpointers’ Club’s first “Highpointer Cum Laude” award for a lifetime of meritorious service.
* Paul never traveled further than 30 miles from his home in Emden in the flatlands of Illinois until he was 26 (and still lives that close to his birthplace).
* He’s not a 48 or 50 completer (he lacks Alaska, Washington, Montana and Wyoming — although he adds “I made it to timberline on all of them”).
* He didn’t publish his famous book “Fifty State Summits – Guide With Maps to State Highpoints” until he was age 76 in 1988.
Yet, Paul’s kindly presence has graced almost every highpointers convention and been the inspiration for countless highpointers. At 76 he climbed Mount Hood (“my publisher wrote a book about Hood and he said I was the third oldest to do that”). At 89, he climbed Backbone Mountain during the Maryland Convention (“it’s getting to be harder now”). For years he’s been winning the award for the oldest at the convention and the one with the most family members (8 which is a “small” Zumwalt contingent attended Maryland).
Paul’s biography reads like a page out of “The Greatest Generation — Highpointers Edition” He was born in a small town near Peoria, taught in a one-room school, married his childhood sweetheart, surveyed for the USGS, joined the Navy during World War II, became a military governor for two counties in Korea following the war, turned down an offer to be head surveyor for all of Korea just before the Korean War, returned to Peoria where he worked 26-years as an engineer at Caterpillar until he retired, and then started his highpoint author career. He attended every convention except the very first informal gathering in Michigan and one in Nevada (which coincided with his son’s marriage — “I tried to get him to change it…”). He has also served on the Club’s Board of Directors since its inception. He was awarded the Club’s first Vin Hoeman Award in 1989.
Paul’s wife, Lila, is an inspiring presence. This was the first convention she was unable to attend with Paul after being bed ridden since suffering a stroke.
Q. How’s Lila doing?
A. She’s doing o.k. She is bed ridden and we have to have somebody. I am helping her with her physical therapy.
Q. How did you meet?
When I taught country school I was only 19 years old. I went around to the families and tell them what books they were going to have. She came to the door and I said, “oh, you’re going to be one of my students.” And she told me that she was a senior in high school. I thought she was a grade school. I already got off to a bad start.
Q. What got you interested in highpointing?
A. The discovery of the highpoint in Louisiana was what got me interested. I thought it was pretty neat. We were mapping for army maneuvers in Louisiana. There was a platoon of soldiers that was lost in the area for a week in the area where I was survey. While I was surveying in the swamps, there was a senior surveyor who was training other surveyors and he had the high ground and he found the state highpoint and I thought that was neat. When you’re in the swamps you sure find highpoints interesting. The area I survey on the Texas-Louisiana border is now all under water and you can’t see if I was right in my work.
Q. What was the first highpoint you visited?
A. South Dakota. It was early in my surveying days so I think it was in 1941.
Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Illinois and I didn’t even get out of the state until I was 26 when I went to the University of Illinois and graduated in Civil Engineering.
Q. What inspired you to write your guidebook?
A. I knew about Frank Ashley’s book. I used that. It sold for a dollar and he didn’t have very much detail in there. And it got outdated. I wrote him to see if there was going to be any additions. I got in touch with his publisher and they said not, I thought I would write a book about highpoints East of the Mississippi. But my publisher who lives in Washington [state] thought I should write a book about all the highpoints.
Q. Did you start highpointing in earnest when you retired and starting writing the book?
A. During the time I worked with Caterpillar we went on vacations was when I did some highpoints. Sometimes there were some discussions about whether we should do it. I just thought they were neat places to go on your vacation. It was my intention in the book was to write a book about places to go on your vacation.
Q. How did you find the highpoints?
A. There was Frank Ashley’s book. But my surveying knowledge also helped. He spent a week looking for highpoint of Michigan but I was able to find it. I surveyed several highpoints.
Q. What about Missouri?
A. Missouri was the first highpoint that I found was in the wrong place. I saw that they were sending people to the wrong place. It was about 400 feet away. Frances Carter was the first woman to do all 50, and when she got my book, she went back and did Missouri again
Q. What about Rhode Island?
A. I surveyed the land with Henry Richardson and found that the USGS markers were two feet lower than they had been announced. I think that’s what started getting him mad. He thought the highpoint was on his property.
Q What about Delaware?
A. I found out about Delaware in a letter from the Delaware Geological Society. It’s about 100 yards west of the marker.
Q. What about Illinois?
It’s in the right place. Some people think it’s where the house is. That’s where the monument used to be. But they put the monument there because it was at the end of the ridge and had a better view. You could see three states from there. I have a picture of the monument in my book.
Q. Do you have any regrets about highpointing?
A. I wish I had done the harder peaks early on. When I went out to visit my son who had a job in mine in Wyoming. I couldn’t keep up with him. So that’s why I took up running. I took up running so I could climb mountains. I ran 10 marathons in my 60s with an average time of 4 hours.
Q. Why didn’t you climb the peaks then?
A. I hadn’t written the book yet.
Q. How has the Club changed?
One difference is the amount of children involved. There were a lot of children at the Maryland convention. I got my picture taken with the youngest one who was 11 weeks old. Once I think there was one who made 10 highpoints by 10 months old by being carried up.
Q. Is there anything you dislike about the Club?
A. I don’t think there is. They may be going a little overboard on these trophies. I just didn’t expect getting a trophy like. I’m pleased to get it. I don’t feel like I deserve it.
Here’s what some other Board of Directors have to say about Paul:
Paul Z was not the first person to write a guidebook (Frank Ashley beet him to the punch by a decade, and Don Homes’ book came out at about the same point in time), nor the 1st to do the 50 highpoints (in fact, he didn’t make it up a couple of them), nor did he organize the Highpointers Club (we are indebted to Jakk for that) but the man has done as much for highpointing as anyone really. His book is very useful, with topos scanned in that enhance the experience for users without access to maps. He has gone to many places to meticulously survey the highpoints, in order to ensure that the exact point can be visited. He has been instrumental in raising funds to make improvements to the highpoints, not an easy task given the lack of 501-C-3 status to date. He has met private landowners and helped to assimilate them into the Club. He has, as much as anything else, provided an inspiration to hundreds of members, who say to themselves, “Paul is still doing it, so I can too”, or “Paul made it up here at the age of xx, so I can too”. I met him in New Mexico in ’94, and like Jakk, he took time to speak to me, a complete stranger and relatively new member, much as Jakk and Don always do. Like a good CEO of a corporation, they are leaders, but they take time to be accessible to the masses. Like a good CEO, they remember your name, which never ceases to amaze many folks. I caught him at a lull in the confusion at the highpoint on Backbone Mountain. during the Club hike, and he and I got caught up to date. He was able to maintain a positive attitude on the situation he and Lila face, and that gave me strength to deal with things of lesser magnitude in my life. I treasure moments like that, and realize those moments are few and fleeting with my Highpointer friends. Suffice to say, the Club would not be what it is today if it had not been for the efforts of Paul Zumwalt and a few other good folks like him.
I voted for Paul because I have known him for many years and he has devoted untold amounts of energy and time to making highpointing attainable to all. After he wrote his book FIFTY STATE SUMMITS, he drove thousands of miles rechecking the highpoints for any changes, and calling nearby campgrounds for price updates. He diligently tried to keep his subsequent printings up to date and accurate. He has also been a very good ambassador for us with high point owners.
I first met Paul at the 1990 Highpointers Convention in El Paso, Texas. Both of our books had just been published, Paul’s about three months before mine. Although we are competing authors, we have become good friends. One thing that we have both had a good time with is that Paul always seemed to have his books priced about $1.00 lower than mine no matter what price I had chosen. I told Paul that if I gave my books away, he would probably pay the people $1.00 to take his. Over the years our friendship has grown stronger and it is always a real pleasure to see him at the Conventions.
Bottom line? I love Paul! That’s the thing about highpointers. Once you’ve roped together, you have a bond for life. Paul has been a real supporter of the Club. I mean from Day One. Paul has been a real supporter of the Club. He as been a hell of an asset to the Club. .I wish I had his book when I did my highpoints. I did some highpoints with him. In South Dakota there was a question of whether the spire straight west of the castle was higher. He said he would survey it if I would help carry up the equipment. I did that and we settled the argument. He and Lila have always had such a great sense of humor. In Maryland, I told him about my plans to have my ashes carried to the 50 highpoints. He volunteered to take them to Charles Mound.
Paul Zumwalt, a very active and enthusiastic highpointer, has provided the hobby with many hours of his time, and we are all very much the better off for it. Paul created a fascinating guidebook with a uniquely personal flavor in the text and an easy-to-use large-size format. Paul has also used his excellent surveying experience to measure certain confusing crests, such as RI, MO, and DE. Paul, and his wonderful wife Lila, are among the friendliest highpointers in the Club. Their support for the Club and its goals is extraordinary. Many thanks for their involvement! I salute you! – John Mitchler
I knew Paul Zumwalt was The Grand Old Man of the Highpointers about as soon as I knew there was The Highpointers! I read his book soon afterwards, and in addition to its being useful on clibs, I was touched by its charm as he wove stories about his Travels With Lila among the highpoint facts. Then last year when I was talking with Allan Griggs about having the convention at the Black Mesa in 2002, Allan picked up the telephone to share the news with Paul. On the spot Paul offered to make the bid for OK-2002 at the Hawaii Convention! I was pleased and excited–and those of you who were at the Hawaii convention know that we won with no competition! Many thanks, Paul Zumwalt. I look forward to our sharing OK-2002 with you.
Paul Zumwalt published the second book providing the routes and descriptions of the highest point in each of the 50 states. Although Paul’s was the second book, it was published fore than 15 years after the first by Frank Ashley, and was the first to contain up-to-date detailed descriptions and maps. Although I had been to all but 4 of the 50 state highpoints when Paul published his book, it has been a source of information and interesting to read. Paul has been active in maintaining current information on Highpoints and has returned to many states with survey instruments to determine the exact highest point in questionable areas. My thanks to Paul for the contributions he has made to Highpointing and the Highpointer’s Club.