Inside the Early Days with Bill Schneider

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

Bill was a member of the Indian Creek Nature Center board of directors from 1973-1978. He was president during the start-up years of 1973-’74 and also in the last part of 1976, after the reigning president, Bruce Sampsell, resigned and moved out of state. Bill also served as a trustee, beginning in 1980 (as chairman) and running to 2008. In recognition of his exceptional volunteer service over the course of an incredible 30 years, Bill received both a jack-in-the-pulpit award (in 1984, the first year they were given) and a Founders’ Award (in 2008, the second year it was given). He is also a member of the Shooting Star Society, consisting of ICNC friends who have included the Nature Center in their estate plans and/or established an endowed fund benefiting the Center. For decades, Bill and his wife, Jean, have supported the Nature Center as member-donors.

Bill visited the Nature Center in mid-June to share his memories of the early days of ICNC. We sat outside in view of the blooming prairie and woodlands near Amazing Space on a beautiful morning. He commented several times about how great it was to see so many people – including summer nature campers – out and about.

“I played outdoors every day of my life, growing up in the little town of Sheldon in northwest Iowa. My mother shooed me out of the house at eight o’clock in the morning, gave me lunch, then shooed me out of the house until I came back at dinner. I was out doing something in the outdoors all the time, so I’ve always liked it. My dad was a hunter and I went hunting with him.”

“Jeannie (Jean O’Donnell, co-founder of ICNC with BB Stamats) was a good friend of mine. She knew I was an outdoors person. She gave me a call and said, ‘Bill, we have a group that’s talking about forming a nature center. Would you like to be on the board?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I would.’ And so that’s how I got acquainted with the Nature Center. She invited me to the last steering committee meeting, when the group voted to form a corporation and decided to pursue building a nature center.
“So I was on the board. No big deal. About two weeks later, I got a call from Jeannie and BB, who invited me to go to lunch at the Montrose Hotel. Yeah, it was suspect. At lunch they shared their enthusiasm for the planned nature center and asked me to be board president.
“So I stammered and stuttered. There was plenty going on in my life with children and work and the rest of it. So I said I would, but on one condition: I’m not going to be the fundraiser. They said I wouldn’t have to worry about that, that they had people lined up to do fundraising. So I said okay, I will be the president as long as I’m not doing the fundraising.”
But as it turned out, the people Jean and BB thought would fundraise, declined.
“I had begged for money before and I’d been involved in a couple of fundraisers. So we did it. I organized the fundraiser down at the Museum of Art (then located where the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation is today). We had a kickoff to raise money. And we went out on calls. Before this happened, BB and Jean shared the good news that the Hall Foundation – thanks in large part to the women’s connection with Margaret Hall – pledged $50,000 on the condition that we raise $100,000. So that was the incentive.”

“We knew we had the (Penningroth) Barn for our headquarters site, but we didn’t have a lease on the barn, despite our best efforts. I wasn’t very excited about putting $100,000 into a building if we didn’t have a lease on it. Cedar Rapids Parks Commissioner Stan Reinis said ‘no’ to the lease, but he said they’d let us stay there as long as we wanted. (The lease was secured later on.) So we hoped for the best and went ahead with fundraising. I think I raised about $94,000. So we got most of the (matching) money.
“More good news was Rinderknecht Construction agreed to do the renovation at cost. That was a generous donation. And so we remodeled the barn and started using it as our headquarters.”

“When we had raised $30,000 we decided we should hire a director, to help attract people and teach them about nature.”
Ultimately, Curt Abdouch accepted the directorship, even though ICNC could only promise him a year of employment. “We couldn’t pay him much. We set aside $20,000 to cover his payroll – salary and taxes – for the first 12 months. Curt started regular programming, like snowshoeing in winter. He was a young guy looking for a place, and he did a super job. Hats off to him. He didn’t have much to work with, and we had to remodel the barn.”

“We went down to the (Cedar Rapids) school board meeting and said we have a proposal that we would like to have every 5th grader in Cedar Rapids visit the Nature Center, so that the kids understood what it was. And so we had a contract with the school district and started having school buses full of kids out at the Center.

“We never had a deficit. Or if we did, we had a carryover from the year before of a little something, but mainly we balanced the budget every year. If we didn’t have the money to do something, we refused to spend it.
“After Curt left the Nature Center, Rich Patterson was hired as director (from 1978-2013). Rich and I would visit people together on fundraising calls. I knew the people, and Rich was the salesperson. And it worked. We raised a lot of money through those visits and through lots of fundraisers – too many to count. I remember an endowment campaign led by Jeff Hamilton that raised a million dollars. The annual distribution from that $1 million was enough to support an additional staff person.
“Those were fun times.”

“I brought more than one person (who was) in trouble out here and walked through the Nature Center with them. I’ve had a couple of friends whose marriages were breaking up. We’d go take a Saturday afternoon walk. (Motioning to the woodland northwest of Amazing Space), I’ve loved that trail forever. The Nature Center has always been a place of solace for me.”

“Today the Nature Center is a lot bigger than it was back there (motioning toward the barn, the original headquarters). It’s amazing what’s happened in 50 years. Jeannie and BB had an idea that worked. Who’d have guessed it was going to survive? You never know. But the city and lots of people have been good to us.”

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