Eavesdropping On Ellen: A Campground Love Story
Sometimes, having someone eavesdrop on your private conversation can actually turn out to be a good thing. That’s what happened to Ellen Weiser and Gary Petrozza, the new owners of ARVC member-park Cooperstown Shadow Brook Campground in Cooperstown, N.Y. In fact, it was the beginning of their love story.
In 2007, Ellen and Gary were working for the same office furniture dealership. Ellen then left to work for another company but would return from time to time to visit her former co-workers. One day, she was standing by the reception desk telling her friends that she was going through a divorce. The company’s new manager came up and introduced himself, but then he stepped back a bit and was, well, basically eavesdropping.
“He was just hovering around and I didn’t know why,” Ellen says.
As it turns out, the manager knew Gary was also going through a divorce, and he told Gary he should go talk to Ellen and ask her to lunch. So Gary did! They met a few more times, but she just thought they were just getting together as friends. That is, until Gary asked if he could kiss her.
“It took me a little while to start seeing him differently than a former coworker,” Ellen says. “But then he said something very sweet. We were talking about building a ramp for handicapped people at my synagogue. I told him that some people on the committee didn’t know if they should spend $50,000 to build a ramp since there was only one person in a wheelchair at that time who would use it. I didn't even get through the story when Gary said, ‘if one person needs it, you build it.’ I thought, wow, this guy is something else. I could fall in love with this guy.”
They started dating and the following summer, Gary took Ellen on the first of many camping trips together. But when COVID hit, their lives changed. Since so many people were now working from home, companies stopped buying office furniture and they both lost their jobs… from two different companies on the same day.
The pandemic also affected their camping plans. When the state of New York shut down the campgrounds, Ellen and Gary couldn’t go to their usual spot. Ellen still had her heart set on camping so she found a 1970s Airstream to rent at a campground in Newport, R.I., not realizing how this simple decision would end up sending their lives in a whole new direction.
“We rented a motorcycle, biked all around Newport and toured the mansions, but at night, we sat around our campfire and had our usual camping experience,” she says. “Gary was looking around at all the other Airstreams and he thought, they must do OK with these rentals. I could see his wheels spinning, and he said, ‘Why can't we do this?’ I said, I don't know. Camping is our happy place. Why can't we live in our happy place?”
This eye-opening experience inspired them to start searching for a campground to buy, and they visited parks in six different states before the one in Cooperstown became available.
“We sold everything that we own to get the down payment,” Ellen says, “I sold my house, all my business suits, my high heels. I watched each and every one of them walk down my driveway! And then we got the campground of our dreams. We incorporated under the name Happy Place Campgrounds.”
Now, their happy place will soon be the site of a very happy occasion—their wedding. Ellen and Gary plan to be married at their campground in September. And to think this exciting new chapter in their lives all began with a little bit of eavesdropping and a very inspirational camping trip.