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Hoffman campers come from all over

Emmett DeCambaliza stands by the Winnebago Journey he and his wife have driven to every one of the contiguous United States. Gretta Stark photo1 / 2
Colleen DeCambaliza and her dog Bandit sit in a lawn chair outside of the DeCambalizas' motorhome. DeCambaliza and her husband Emmett were in town to visit their daughter and grandsons. Gretta Stark photo2 / 2

Everything from motorhomes the size of tour buses to an old, green Ford filled eight of the 15 camper parking spaces at Hoffman Park Thursday, July 7.

The people staying at the campsite were there for reasons varying from relatives' birthdays to coping with a four-hour commute to work.

Campers Colleen and Emmett DeCambaliza came to River Falls in their 35-foot Winnebago for their grandsons' birthdays.

Their oldest grandson Tanner recently graduated from River Falls High School. Grandson Lakota is about to turn two.

The DeCambalizas have been in and out of River Falls since May, visiting their daughter Deidre Runnion and her sons, and visiting other relatives in the area.

"We've seen more of our family travelling all the time than we did when we lived in Minnesota," said Colleen.

When Emmett retired in 1995, the DeCambalizas sold their house in Lakeville, Minn., packed up their belongings in their camper and went on the road.

The DeCambalizas have been coming to River Falls for eight or nine years now, said Colleen. She and Emmett enjoy visiting River Falls and walking up in the Hoffman Mound and around town.

"It's a good town to walk in. It's really pretty," said Colleen.

Colleen said she and Emmett also enjoy the River Falls Days fireworks when they are here to see them.

"We invite any relatives we've got around and we all plop our chairs and watch 'em up close and personal," said Colleen.

The DeCambalizas spend their winters in Swan Lake Estates, a Mobile Home Park in Tucson, Ariz., where they sublet their double-wide.

Campers Randy Platson and DeAnn Gratz also left their house, packed up their RV and hit the road -- but for different reasons.

Platson and Gratz were planning on spending their summer travelling with Platson's son Randy Jr. and Gratz's daughter Catherine, but before they could leave, Randy Jr. died.

Randy Jr. had just turned 18 when he died of an overdose of Oxycodone.

He had just returned from a trip to Menomonie, and went to his room to rest.

Platson had recently had neck surgery, so around dinner time, he went to get Randy to help him cook supper. But when he went to wake his son up, Randy's eyes and lips were blue.

Platson said the coroner told him Randy Jr. had died the minute he laid down.

"He just went to sleep and never woke up," said Platson.

Platson contacted WCCO Minnesota and did a story about his son's death by drug overdose, hoping to dissuade other teens from experimenting with drugs.

"If it saved one kid it would've been worth it," said Platson.

While all of this was going on, Platson said he was dealing with his neck surgery and an acute case of appendicitis.

When he recovered, Platson and Gratz locked up their Hammond home and took off in their RV.

But now, staying in Hoffman Park is one step closer to moving back home for Platson and Gratz.

Gratz works as a dietary manager at Ellsworth Health Care Center, and is commuting from Hoffman Park to Ellsworth this summer, while she and Platson get ready to move back home after three and a half years on the road.

Also commuting from Hoffman Park to work is Keith Larson, living out of his car in Hoffman Park this summer, while he works on building the new South Fork Suites II dorms.

Larson is a longtime bricklayer for Miron Construction.

He travels to River Falls from his home four hours away in Manawa, on Monday mornings, and returns home Fridays after work. From Monday to Friday, he stays in his car at Hoffman Park.

Larson said he will hopefully be in town working on the university construction until the dorm is completed next fall. This means he is searching for winter accommodations.

Meanwhile, Hoffman Park is exactly what Larson needs.

Larson said he likes Hoffman Park and finds it reasonably priced.

"I guess you can't beat fifteen bucks a day with electric," said Larson.

Platson, however, disagreed with Larson. He said the $15 per night charge was more expensive than he'd like.

The DeCambalizas on the other hand, thought $15 a night was a bargain compared to other campsites they've used.

Everyone agreed that the park's grounds were "pretty" and said they liked how quiet the park was.

But as much as Larson likes River Falls and Hoffman Park, he is excited to go home to his 25-acre farm, and his wife and 7-year-old daughter.

For any questions about Hoffman Park's campgrounds, call 715-425-0924.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

(715) 426-1048