2022 Volunteer Award Winners

Volunteers are essential to the work being done at the Indian Creek Nature Center. On October 11, we invited our volunteers to Amazing Space to honor their contributions in person, but a power outage forced us to cancel the event. In lieu of honoring our volunteers in person, we will use this space to share the kind words our staff have for a few of the volunteers whose contributions are being recognized with an annual award. Simply click their names to read about the impact they’ve had at the Indian Creek Nature Center.

“As a staff we were saddened to cancel Tuesday’s event due to a power outage. After the decision was made, I looked up and saw Mike Duss, a longtime volunteer, who had arrived early. “You’re the first to arrive” I said, explaining our power outage. “I just came early in case you needed help” said Mike. That simple statement says everything about who our volunteers are. They are here when we need them, often without being asked (even when the event is being held in their honor). I couldn’t be more thankful for each one of you.

A special, heart-felt thank you to volunteers Mary Kopecky, Mike Duss and Phil White for creating works of art that were given as gifts to our award recipients.”

– Rachel Bailey, Program Registrar and Volunteer Coordinator

2022 Volunteer Award Winners

Outstanding Service by a Community Supporter

Individual, Company, Corporation or Foundation makes a substantial contribution of volunteer time, as a group/entity. Individual, Company, Corporation or Foundation shows particular dedication to the ICNC mission of creating Champions of Nature through education and/or inspiration. Individual, Company, Corporation or Foundation made a significant contribution to part of a specific project(s) or program. Their support was integral to this project(s) or program.

Iowa Landscape and Nursery Association
As a volunteer-led team–they made an incredible impact on our land and programming. They landscaped a portion of Hazelnut Hideaway. What this means is they: planned, including the design, selection of plant, tree, shrub species, consulted with our land team, organized the labor, the equipment (a skid steer) for a half-day work session which also included Kirkwood students as a learning opportunity. Additionally, they included the Creekside Forest School preschoolers – each hauling little ice cream buckets of water, to finish up the planting that day. By the time they were done– they left our land team with care instructions to ensure everything planted was as successful as possible. It is our pleasure to say thank you – what an impact you had.
Alliant Energy
Leah Rodenberg has been taking our calls and helping fund great projects for more than 15 years. Thank you Leah for your belief in our mission. May Farlinger has been on the ICNC board since 2017 and she jumped right in to lead and advocate for ICNC within her company and in the community. Thank you May for being such a strong advocate for the work of the Nature Center. Alliant Energy, the Alliant Foundation and the Nature Center go way back. Especially when it comes to renewable energy and research. From solar panels on the Penningroth barn, to solar panels on Amazing Space and a solar field, Alliant has consistently been a partner with us for decades on how to transition the delivery of power to include renewable energy and what it can look like in actual practice. Their leadership extends to decades of board and trustee volunteer work within our organization. Their belief in environmental and STEM education has meant supporting long running events like Maple Syrup Festival, Summer camps for children and interpretive signage on our property. And yet, this is still just the beginning. We are looking forward to next year and upcoming projects.

Commitment to Excellence Award

Board Member who makes a substantial contribution of their time over the course of the year, shows particular dedication to the ICNC mission of creating Champions of Nature through education and/or inspiration, or was part of a specific project(s) or program.

Lisa Henderson

Lisa Henderson is receiving the Commitment to Excellence Award for her decades of service to the Nature Center. Her commitment and enthusiasm for the Nature Center are second only to her passion for our mission, most especially renewable energy and the changing energy infrastructure. Lisa served as board president and now is the chair of the Trustees. She was the longtime connection and advocate for the Nature Center when she worked at Alliant. Her community relationships provide many meaningful connections in her work at the Nature Center and for our development team. Lisa’s ability to connect with others and engage them in strategic thinking is a joy to behold. Lisa does not shy away from asking the tough questions or having critical conversations, she simply does it in her signature way with curiosity and caring. Lisa is a talented fundraiser who believes in goals that are equal to the impact of the work being done. Lisa and her husband Jeff attend many ICNC events bringing friends and colleagues along to experience the sense of wonder while here. When you see Lisa, ask her about the plans for the 50th year anniversary celebration. She is also serving on this committee and is providing excellent guidance to our team. The Nature Center thanks Lisa for her many years of service and is so grateful she has continued her as the chair of the Trustees, where she is focused on endowment growth and increased lifetime memberships.

Jane Schildroth
Jane Schildroth has been a longtime supporter of the Nature Center for the past decade, plus. Not only will you see her working alongside the Friends group, but she is also a board member and serves on various committees. Jane is a wonderful person. One reason is because she tells it like it is. Another is she enjoys connecting with others which is obvious when you see her working at the Nature Center in her various roles. For instance, last week she was here making soup with Mary Kopecky for Natures Noel. Acknowledging Jane would be incomplete if I did not mention her granddaughter Ava and daughter Devon. Jane takes the time to bring Ava to events, to explore the grounds and be the youngest committee member at times. Jane most recently was featured in the Iowa Women’s Foundation Ovation awards for her work empowering Iowa women and girls.
Jen Welton
Jen Welton joined our board in 2017. She did so with the intention that she would be very actively engaged. She became board president in 2021. Jen offers powerful insight and thoughtful leadership to the many committees she serves on in her role as board president for the Nature Center. Her passion for the Nature Center extends into her daily role at Cedar Rapids Bank & Trust where she is an advocate for ICNC and has secured one of the most significant multi-year pledges of any company in our history. Jen and her husband Shannon have hosted gatherings at Amazing Space to introduce their friends to the Nature Center and encourage them to become members and donors. Jen is well known for her strong belief in the future of our community. She was most recently elected to the Palo City Council.

Land and Sugar Grove Farm Volunteers of the Year

It is a privilege for the land team to work with many of our wonderful volunteers on various projects. The land team is responsible for managing over 500 acres. And for a small team that we are, the volunteers we have working with us day-to-day make such a difference over a years time. We are able to accomplish more projects with you than we can alone. We truly can’t thank you enough for the time that you donate to the land. So on behalf of the land team, we thank you.

Rob McKillip
Rob McKillipis one of our most dedicated sawyers. He has helped us tremendously with derecho clean up efforts in our woodlands. Specifically, Rob has spent a lot of time with us cleaning up wood duck way in preparation for a tree planting later this year. This and many other projects Rob has been a part of. Rob, we appreciate you and thank you for helping us to restore and manage our woodlands.
AJ Novak
AJ Novak has helped the land team in many different areas this past year. He has helped to remove derecho debris from around our maple trees so we were able to place 50 extra taps for syruping. He was also very involved in our 2022 syruping season helping to collect sap all over the property. He helped Gabe and I early in the year clear a new stretch of trail in our woodland trail system that will open later this year. And a fun fact, AJ actually did his eagle scout project here at the Nature Center in his youth. AJ, is always ready to work hard and has such a positive attitude. Thank you for your dedication to the Nature Center and to our land over the years.
Steve Keane
Steve Keane, our Sugar Grove Volunteer of the Year, has been so incredibly dedicated to helping out at the farm this year. He helped plant many of our produce beds this spring. I could always count on him if I needed help with harvesting, and I promise next year I’ll plant a larger tomato variety. He even coordinated a group project with his family members to mulch some of the trees in our permaculture field. Not only has he helped with our agricultural efforts, but Steve has also taken extra time to help care for the farm house property. He has spent time weeding the garden beds, planting daffodils and day-lilies, and he laid brick pavers around the house sidewalk. Steve, you are always eager to help wherever you can, and I am so appreciative of the time and energy you have given to the farm this past year. Thank you, Sugar Grove Farm wouldn’t be the same without you.

Education Volunteers of the Year

Volunteers recognized for the impact they make on our educational programs and helping to create future Champions of Nature.

Renee Konrad
Renee Konrad is an outstanding leader of our youngest visitors. She has helped us with our visiting preschool field trips and, most recently, the preschool and kindergarten summer camps. Although she is sometimes unsure about trying new things, she was one of the first volunteers to offer her help and our main volunteer with one of our newest program adventures, Fresh Air Academy. When volunteering with Fresh Air Academy, she supports the variety of adventures the kids go on (hiking, more hiking, exploring the creek, exploring around the big sycamore tree, making fires, catching frogs and bugs, etc) and her frequent presence allowed her to also support and encourage the kids’ variety of interests along the way each day.
Christina van Roekel
So many volunteers have been involved with Creekside Forest School in 2021 and 2022. Christina van Roekel was with us on a weekly basis for the entire 9 month pilot school year. She worked with students who had the highest needs, was always there to offer a hand, offered a lap to sit on, and a kind word of praise or reassurance. She provided brief reports about students’ day to families, and was a collaborative professional while working with CFS staff. Her calming presence and bright smile brings the best out of our students and staff. She has a wonderful way of connecting to the students. She arrived with a smile on her face and the children were always excited to see her. Christina’s knowledge and expertise in the education field were so valuable. Christina is a frequent and reliable volunteer with Creekside Forest School, as well as many special events. She truly finds the need area and asks how she can fill it – a great example was at Maple Syrup Festival when we were short on volunteers in a couple areas, Christina covered many roles and stayed later than her shift to ensure our guests left happy. We are so grateful to have her as a volunteer and are pleased to recognize her as an Education Volunteer of the Year.

Jack-in-the-Pulpit Award

Volunteers can be nominated for the Jack-in-the-Pulpit award if they’ve volunteered at the Nature Center for more than 2 years with some continuity to their involvement. Additionally, Jack-in-the-Pulpit award recipients have donated their time resulting in a positive outcome for the Nature Center.

Kathy Severson
Kathy Severson has volunteered for many years at the Nature Center. Many of you see her smiling face when she is welcoming people to Amazing Space during special events, sometimes she is even dressed up in costume for the festivities.This volunteer’s contributions also include the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center and their events, but specifically at the geranium table at the Spring Plant and Art Sale. She has brought in many new Friends members and strives to include everyone. She is personable and approachable, a teacher in every way – probably due to her many years in the classroom.
Kelle Kolkmeier
Kelle Kolkmeier has volunteered well over the 2 year requirement for this award, perhaps closer to 5 or 6 years, and is an asset to both the land and education teams. She is a Wednesday Warrior and helps with land special projects and is a reliable and adaptable Teacher Naturalist. She “gets” kids! No matter the age or ability of the children she can adapt and adapt well! In fact, she can even match their energy and enthusiasm! Frequently working special events, both in set up and the day of events, means that the day runs smoothly thanks to her efforts. Kelle is always cheerful even in stressful, busy moments and never one to shy away from less than ideal weather. Kelle Kolkmeier, we appreciate all you do for the Nature Center.
Roberta Lympus
Roberta Lympus has been instrumental in our efforts to raise awareness of the importance of pollinators and pollinator habitats. She has helped with butterfly and wetland programs and volunteered to help raise caterpillars for our hoop house. Her contributions to Monarch Fest are the most impressive. She is a plant grower extraordinaire – purchasing seeds, finding pots, soil, providing the right growing conditions, labeling each plant, providing care sheets for each kind of plant and then personally delivering 800 plants with her own volunteers to unload them at the Nature Center. Not only is this an amazing feat, all of these 800 plants are donated to enthusiastic gardeners, several new to the idea. She educates others on which plants attract which pollinators, how to care for them and why it’s important. Roberta Lympus is a Champion of Nature and her impact is exponential. Thank you for your dedication.

Founders Award

The Founders’ Award is given in honor of Indian Creek Nature Center Founders, Jean O’Donnell and BB Stamats. It is only presented to exceptional volunteers with decades of service and a long standing commitment to Creating Champions of Nature.

Berta Ringold
Berta has been involved with the Nature Center for many years. Prior to being a Friend of ICNC (formerly Guild), Berta enjoyed working as a teacher-naturalist and was awarded the Jack-in-the-Pulpit Award in 1998. As a Friend of ICNC, Berta is a key volunteer and organizer of Nature’s Noel and enjoys contributing to the bake sale and working the geranium table at Plant and Art Sale. Berta is such a kind presence and will bring a smile to your face.
Jeanne Hepker
Jeanne was a teacher-naturalist (TN) well into the 1990s. In true Jeanne fashion, she always pitched in when needed. Jeanne was a retired teacher when she became a TN, and cared deeply about the children she taught, both in school and at ICNC. After Jeanne’s TN years she served as a Guild member (before the group’s name change to ICNC Friends). Jeanne won a Silver Leaf award in the 1980s and a Jack-in-the-Pulpit award in 1993. She was Guild president in 1986, and she became a lifetime member in 1997. Jeanne and her family have a tradition of attending the Maple Syrup Festival each March.
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