Heroes of Conservation—from Geauga Maple Leaf

Geauga Maple Leaf

November 17, 2016 by Gwen Cooper

Geauga Park District pioneer Robert Ford and former Russell Township Park District members Roy Podojil and Sanford “Sandy” Siegler were honored Nov. 13 at the second annual Heroes of Conservation dinner sponsored by the Protect Geauga Parks organization.

The crowd of attendees included faces familiar to those who have attended public meetings of various Geauga park boards in addition to members of the League of Women Voters of Geauga County and Russell Township officials.

In addition to accolades, student scholarships will be established in the three men’s names to Geauga Park District’s Chip Henry Institute, named for the former juvenile court judge, according to PGP spokeswoman Kathy Hanratty.

At age 95, Ford was unable to attend, but he was represented at the event by his son, Tom, who described him as an organic farmer and recycler before dumpster-style recycling centers were established.

“Dad wants you to know that he is flattered by this,” Tom Ford said.

Hanratty credited the elder Ford with establishing Geauga Park District in 1961 with help from the league of women voters and other Geauga citizens.

“The first park was a 4-acre parcel on Woodin Road in Chardon Township, but today the GPD has grown to over 9,000 acres,” Hanratty noted. “It is up to us, Geauga citizens, to see that this initial vision is maintained and preserved.”

Ford had served as a Geauga probate court judge, beginning in 1980. He was elected judge in the court of common pleas in 1980, and served for a total of 50 years as a judge.

Siegler was one of the original commissioners appointed to the board of the Russell Township Park District when it was created in 1984. He served for 32 years.

Russell Fiscal Officer Chuck Walder credited Siegler with applying his background in finance and his passion for parks and community to the township’s parks, which includes 370 acres of protected and preserved land.

“For 30 years, he inspired the park board without drama and controversy,” Walder commented. “He was unselfish, the consummate professional.”

Siegler said November brought him two highs and one low. He cited the award and the birth of a grandchild as highs and the Cleveland Indian’s loss in the World Series as the low.

Russell Trustee Jim Mueller introduced Podojil at the event and said he dedicated much of his life to environmental education and the preservation of green space in Russell Township.

Podojil taught science, honors biology and chemistry at West Geauga High School for 32 years and was a volunteer naturalist for many years with the GPD.

On his first day on the job as a teacher, Podojil said then GPD Commissioner Bob McCullough asked him to go for a walk with him after school.

“When I got home, my wife asked where I had been. My pants and shoes were muddy and I was covered in burrs,” quipped Podojil.

Podojil explained he and McCullough walked together for the next 15 years, often in search of land to be preserved as parkland.

“They became local experts in the unique and special natural features of the county,” Mueller said, noting the late McCullough was a past recipient of the PGP Hero of Conservation award.

Mueller credited Podojil with “tirelessly preserving the quality of life in Russell and adding properties to the township’s park portfolio, including the 130-acre Russell Uplands Preserve.

Mueller also thanked him for serving as the current chairman of Russell’s new “511 township park district committee.”

The program included musical entertainment by musician and composer Bill Lestock and poetry readings by Gayle and Jim Wohlken.

The PGP has about 200 contributors, Hanratty said.

“The mission is promote, support and actively campaign for conservation, preservation and protection of nature as the primary mission of parks,” she explained. “The event was held to honor our heroes of conservation. We accepted donations, but fundraising was not the purpose of the dinner.”

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