Originally published Summer 2012, JDCF Newsletter
My conservation story is a love story. I have spent my life loving the outdoors. As a child, I lived outside hiking, digging, exploring, climbing, collecting and playing all to the mortification of my mother.
When Bob and I decided to retire and move to Jo Daviess County, one of the reasons we chose to move here is because it offered a life outside. We have fished, played golf, photographed, built rock gardens, vegetable gardens, planted prairies, burned prairies, monitored blue bird trails, counted birds, stargazed, and walked and hiked miles and miles in this beautiful county. Living and volunteering in this beautiful county has been the happiest 21 years of our lives.
On a Saturday night about a year after we moved here, we were at a party at the home of Walter and Barbara Peterson. Barbara introduced me to Esther Lieberman. Esther and I chatted. She asked me what I was interested in and I said that I was interested in environmental issues and being outside. She asked me if I knew about the Natural Area Guardians and I said no. She asked if she could give my name to Barbara Rutherford and I said sure.
Barbara called me the next day. She said they had a birding group that met on Thursday morning and asked if I would be interested in going with them. I said sure. She said there was a woman who lived in the Territory who was going to go birding with them and asked if I would like her to call me. The next day, I received a call from Grace Storch, and on Thursday I went birding with the Guardians. That first birding trip was the beginning of my life outside in Jo Daviess County and the source of many wonderful new friends including my good friend, Rickie.
Within a year, I was membership person for the Guardians. I was rewarded with the job of sending those little reminders of renewal.
As the Guardians grew, our frustrations with not being able to own and manage land and conduct prescribed burns led to a group forming a chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts, a Wisconsin based organization. Our chapter became the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts. We could own land, burn our land, pick seed on our land and manage our land. Most of the beautiful prairies you see in Jo Daviess County are prairies planted by the Guardians and the Prairie Enthusiasts.
Bob and I were in Florida when the board of the Northwest Illinois Prairie Enthusiasts was formed. When we returned, John Rutherford informed me that I had been elected secretary. That was a job I held for 10 years until a saint named Patty Wemstrom came along a took the job.
As the Guardians grew, our frustrations with not being able to own and manage land and conduct prescribed burns l One of the most fortunate strokes of luck that came our way in our choice of home sites was when Rich and Laurie Mattas decided to build their weekend home next to us in the Galena Territory. Rich saw me hiking in the fields near our homes. He noticed my binoculars and asked if I was a bird watcher. I said I was a novice but that I belonged to a group of really good birders and told him about the Guardians. Within a few months, we had a new recruit for annual Audubon spring bird count.
Rich and Laurie came to love Jo Daviess County and the land as much as Bob and I did. They both became involved with the Guardians as well as many other causes in the county. Rich joined the board of The Conservation Foundation and then recruited me for the board. I joined the Board of Directors 5 years ago and now serve as board president.
I feel passion about the work of the Foundation. Throughout my life, many of my happiest moments have been connected to the land.
When we first moved here, there were very few houses near ours. In the winter, on the coldest of nights, I would bundle up and take my dog, Pip, up around the corner. We could see the stars because there were no other lights. He loved to run through the snow-covered fields. I would take great delight in being outside enjoying nature at her coldest. I would feel so renewed, and Pip and I felt like we were the only ones alive in our special corner of Jo Daviess County.
On a summer night in late June when it stays light until 9 or later, Bob, Pip and I would take the same walk up around the corner. We would walk into the fields full of beautiful wildflowers. One day, as we were standing there, I looked at Bob and said, "We ended up in the best possible place."