Connecting Humans with Nature

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

Indian Creek Nature Center is fortunate to have Kelle Kolkmeier among its most active and enthusiastic volunteers since 2018. In recognition of her outstanding volunteer contributions, the Nature Center presented her with an Education Volunteer of the Year award in 2019 and a jack-in-the-pulpit award in 2022. She kindly shared with us her background, ICNC story, and other thoughts related to the Nature Center. 

“The Nature Center (ICNC) was founded when I was 14 years old and busy being a thespian and tennis player at Franklin Junior High and Washington High School (WHS). I graduated from WHS in 1977 (what?!?!?! How is that possible? 😉). I attended Colorado College in Colorado Springs, earning a BA in biology. After traveling (and living) in Athens, Greece for two years, I returned to Cedar Rapids to raise my two daughters. Being in my late 20s and needing a profession, I attended Coe College for a teaching license as well as a Master’s of Education degree. I followed this with another master’s degree (Graceland University) and received my administrative license through Drake University. I taught at Garfield, Polk, Wright, Roosevelt, and finished my career at Franklin. My love was teaching 6th grade science, as I understood where the students were coming from and where they were heading academically.

“Life being what it was, I didn’t become involved (at ICNC) until my retirement in 2018 from the Cedar Rapids School System. Fortunately for me, Fran Roushar was working the front desk (at ICNC) at that time, and contacted me, believing that it was a no-brainer for me to become a Teacher-Naturalist (TN). She was spot on!”

Kelle Kolkmeier at Maple Syrup Festival in 2023
One of Kelle’s favorite events is the Maple Syrup Festival held annually in late March.

As an ICNC volunteer, Kelle serves in a wide variety of areas: as Teacher-Naturalist, a member of the Friends of ICNC, steward of the land, and with maple syruping activities. “Although I thoroughly enjoy every school program that I lead, my favorite time of year is during maple syruping, in March. My husband (Dan Sauerbrei) and I participate in a variety of ways. We tap trees and collect sap. Dan has mentored under Mike Duss (the Nature Center’s sugarmaker), while I have led both school and public programs. 

“Helping the land stewards with derecho recovery has been very challenging. Three years post-derecho, damage to the oak savannah continues to be something I discuss with every group that walks the trails with me.”

“(As a TN), one of my favorite topics is earth-moon-sun interactions. During the weather unit I am thrilled at students’ reactions when I demonstrate exactly how enormous our sun is compared to the earth. This also goes for the adults with many groups, as they, too, have difficulties grasping this concept. It is also exciting when I explain what causes the seasons. You’d be amazed at how many adults believe it is due to earth’s distance from the sun. Spoiler alert: It’s the tilt of the earth on its axis!”

Kelle leading a scouting workshop in January 2020 with her trademark enthusiasm.
Kelle’s 29 years of teaching experience and her contagious enthusiasm help students connect to the wonders of nature.

ICNC Education Manager Andria Cossolotto shares her appreciation for Kelle’s educational volunteerism: “As a former school teacher, Kelle has many special skills she brings to our educational programs. She is extremely quick at accurately assessing the knowledge levels of the young participants. After gathering that information, she adjusts her program delivery so it is appropriate to the group that is in front of her. Another beneficial skill Kelle brings is how she can draw in every child, whether the child has a learning disability or is far advanced, reaching everyone in a fun, yet very effective way. Kelle gives it her all and does it with a smile.”

What challenges/opportunities does Kelle see at ICNC?  “I am happy that the Nature Center has a preschool immersed in nature, but I am hopeful we can find ways to increase the number of school programs coming to Amazing Space. Though our programs usually last less than two hours, we interact with a large and quite diverse population in that brief time. It behooves us to expose as many young people as possible to the value of nature and, more importantly, how we can positively impact it. The more children who realize our interconnectedness to the natural world, the greater the possibility that they will make choices that improve the planet’s health.”

What is Kelle most proud of in her volunteer role with ICNC? “I’m most proud that schoolchildren and I connect and interact easily. Having taught K-8th grade over the course of 29 years has helped me be a better Teacher-Naturalist. My goal is to open children’s eyes to nature, give them joy in being outdoors and, if possible, help them connect the adults in their lives to nature.  When I think of my time spent at the Nature Center I feel I am positively impacting future generations of nature advocates.”

Does she have a favorite place at ICNC? “My husband and I are avid cyclists. We recently purchased mountain bikes and have spent many hours biking along the Sac & Fox Trail and the single track lanes that parallel it. We frequently pedal the Christiansen Trail (which the Linn Area Mountain Bike Association has dubbed ‘Maple Syrup’!) and pause along the prairie to take in the wind as it sweeps through the grasses. I also believe the location of the Blue Bridge will become a new favorite spot to sit and ponder.”

Reflecting on the present and looking toward the future, Kelle shares, “Indian Creek Nature Center is a wild place located incredibly close to the second largest city in Iowa. It values connectivity between humans and nature with a variety of ecosystems to explore and learn about. It embodies sustainability and practices what it preaches. Its trails are accessible year-round, giving individuals opportunities to explore forests, wetlands, prairies and more. Finally, there are a multitude of programs and activities that can thrill, educate, and entertain people of every age. I look forward to being part of the Nature Center family for years to come.”

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