CVT article on Heroes of Conservation

The Chagrin Valley Times published a nice article this week about the Protect Geauga Parks 2019 Heroes of Conservation Event. Our thanks to the Times for this positive coverage and for permission to republish the article here.

Chagrin Valley Times
November 21, 2019
by Joan Demirjian

Ann Malmquist of South Russell, who established the Native Plant Society of Northeast Ohio, was one of three individuals honored as Heroes of Conservation by Protect Geauga Parks. Also honored were the late park naturalist Duane Ferris and former Geauga Park District Director Tom Curtin.

The award was established to honor those who have made significant contributions to the Geauga Park District as well as to the conservation, preservation and protection of the land, wildlife and natural resources in Geauga County. The event was held Nov. 9 at the Munson Township Town Hall.

Protect Geauga Parks Bob McCullough Memorial Scholarships were also presented at the event Nov. 9 to students Amy Weeks Dunham, of Hershey Montessori School, Kaden Knake of West Geauga High School and Kaylie Malloy of Chardon High School.

Each of the Heroes of Conservation were honored by friends and family. Mrs. Malmquist, who passed away in 2015, loved the outdoors and nature, according to her daughter Katherine Malmquist and sons David and Eric who attended the event.

Her great mission in life was to raise her five children with a love of the outdoors and a strong set of morals and ethics, they said. Their time as a family was spent outdoors hiking, swimming, horseback riding, sledding and skating.

She had a lifelong interest in protecting the environment, according to Ms. Malmquist, who lives in South Russell. She recalled how her mother formed the “brine patrol” in the 1970s, going after the well drillers who were disposing brine in local rivers and streams.

She also lobbied successfully to make the trillium grandiflorum the state wild flower. She established the original Native Plant Society of Northeast Ohio and visited other cities to get more chapters formed, according to Ms. Malmquist who is the manager of the Gates Mills and Chagrin Falls public libraries.

Mrs. Malmquist was a member of the Ohio Department of Natural Areas and Preserves and she also worked with Jim Bissell, curator of botany at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, to preserve and protect land. “She was adamant about protecting land and conserving the woods, plants and animals,” her daughter said. She would always try to save the wildflowers on land being developed.

She lived in Chagrin Falls on South Franklin Street and was a graduate of Chagrin Falls High School in 1949 as a salutatorian. She was later a member of the Chagrin Falls Board of Education, and as president of the board in 1973, she presented her son David his graduation diploma.

Mrs. Malmquist, who owned Chagrin Arts, a small business in the village, died from Parkinson’s disease related dementia.

Her son David noted she was a photographer and photographed spring wildflowers, “and we had to carry her equipment,” he said, recalling their childhood growing up in the outdoors. The family lived in Russell and then in South Russell.

He also noted how she would take the family out to identify birds and trees for them. “It was drilled into me at an early age. She loved the natural world. She did a great job of protecting the environment,” he said.

In honoring the accomplishments of the late Mr. Ferris, retired Geauga Park District naturalist Dan Best spoke to the gathering about his accomplishments and recalled their work together in the park district. Mr. Ferris was the first naturalist for Geauga Park District who also worked as a science teacher in the Kenston Local School District. “When I got there in 1987, Duane had retired in 1979, but he continued to give his time to the park district,” Mr. Best said.

He established with Bob McCullough, who was a science teacher in the West Geauga Local School District and a member of the park board, the park district’s wildlife hikes and bird programs. They would bring in guest speakers to do programs, Mr. Best said.

There was no park nature center at the time and they used the local high school auditoriums for programs. Mr. Ferris started the Geauga Park District’s first newsletter, called the “Green Diamond.”

He also established bird nesting box programs, Mr. Best said. He brought birds into closer view so people could see them.

In 1979, health issues forced Mr. Ferris into retirement, but his energy and enthusiasm continued and he volunteered at the parks to the end of his life, Mr. Best said. He recalled how Mr. Ferris was delivering meals to the homebound and was involved in a car accident. He died in 2004. “Duane’s zeal for conservation and nature was his hallmark,” Mr. Best said.

His sharing of nature was understandable and always peppered with chuckles in his own observation of nature. He was never boring. “He was an important mentor to me,” Mr. Best said, calling Mr. Ferris a “fervent conservationist.”

“For all his knowledge he never came across as a know-it-all. Duane was a student to the end.” He was a student of the landscape, looking into what the glaciers did to Geauga County. Birds, wildflowers and geology were his favorite topics, although he was interested in all aspects of nature.

It was a common site to see his red Jeep parked at Ladue Reservoir or at Eldon Russell Park watching the wildfowl, Mr. Best said. “He got me involved with the Prothonotary warbler by putting out nesting boxes for them. He started the horse drawn wagon rides at Swine Creek Reservation.”

Mr. Ferris’ daughter and granddaughter accepted the Heroes of Conservation award on his behalf.

John Leech, former Geauga Park District commissioner, introduced Mr. Curtin at the gathering. Mr. Leech noted how one of Mr. Curtin’s goals was a bike trail for which he worked out the details. And Mr. Curtin built a wonderful and talented staff in the park district, Mr. Leech said.

Key properties were preserved as well as education programs were established during his time. He worked to acquire properties that now include the West Woods Nature Center, Observatory Park, Sunnybrook Preserve, Orchard Hills Preserve, Frohring Meadows, Welton’s Gorge, and the Maple Highland Trail.

He was hired as executive director of Geauga Park District in 1999 and served in that position for 14 years.

Mr. Curtin recalled when he first started with Geauga Park Districts, he was presented with the contracts for the West Woods and he signed them, “and I never had to worry what I was going to do after that.”

He said he had an amazing staff. “It wasn’t me. It was everyone working together.” He said he would have ideas, and the staff brought them to fruition.

Local conservationist Bill Ginn was a mentor and friend and helped obtain the West Woods land for the park district using his own funds as collateral. He also helped establish the Geauga Park District Foundation in the early 1990s. Mr. Curtin added, addressing those gathered in the hall, “I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for all of you.”

Mr. Curtin is currently executive director of Preservation Parks in Delaware County in Ohio. During his time with the parks, he said, “we were able to double the size of the park district.”

The West Woods Nature Center in Russell was a big project, he said, adding “I love West Woods.” They developed the Maple Highlands bike trail as well as Observatory Park. “We had a great staff and volunteers and it was a great experience,” he said.

At the event, Bob Coughlin read six poems he wrote, and nature student Ella Cole entertained with her violin. The scholarship winners were recognized for their writing demonstrating their commitment to conservation.

Categories: News

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