John (Johnny Ray) Ratzloff has been a professional photographer for 30 years and photographing the center for over nine years. Before doing photography for Will, Johnny Ray worked at the White Earth Indian Reservation.
Johnny Ray’s hometown is in Ramsey, Minnesota on a farm which was certified organic in 1977. His lifelong friend Peter Wahlstrom has been canoeing with him for 25 years. He was with Peter when he first heard about the center at a fundraiser which Will was speaking at. Jerry Stinger, Will’s videographer, invited Johnny ray and Peter to Iceball at the Steger Wilderness Center a decade ago. “We went to Ice Ball and we haven’t stopped coming back since,” Johnny Ray said.
“First time I drove here it was astonishing. The more I learned about it, the more fantastic it became,” Johnny Ray said.
“Will was hauling a million pounds of sand by dogsled in the beginning from Ely. He’s expanded the notion of what I believe is possible, because the dream of this place needs to be completed, Johnny Ray said. “This is a place for inspiration and it’s going to take inspired people to get us out of this mess we’ve made,” Johnny Ray said.
“I think (The castle) is one of the most important buildings in Minnesota, possibly internationally for its design, quality, beauty and purpose.
Johnny Ray believes that he’s gotten younger in spirit when he spends his summers up here. “I have real severe back problems,” he said. After getting a surgery and physical therapy, his doctor prescribed walking on uneven ground, which describes the terrain of this place very well.
Johnny Ray loves millennials for their wisdom. “They don’t care as much about cars, like my generation did,” Johnny Ray said. “I failed as a businessman in New York. I was working with very little satisfaction. Then when my first child was born, I started to care about the environment and clean water, so I grabbed my camera and got to work,” he said.
Johnny Ray’s first impression of Will was largely disbelief. “He has such an array of talents. He’s quirky, funny and tough,” he said. “He’s got dog stories that will pin your ears back. Luckily, Will’s writing a book about his dog stories. I also think he’s a perfect candidate for AARP because he’s a cancer survivor who’s doing solo expeditions still,” Johnny Ray said.
As the mayor of Hobo Village, Johnny Ray brings wisdom, fairness and plenty of captivating stories to the community. The last 3 years of interns have impressed Johnny Ray. “Each group has worked hard while being harmonious with each other,” he said.
“I discovered my purpose here, and my purpose is to get this story out,” Johnny Ray said.

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