Kathy Severson at Nature's Noel

Kathy Severson: A Wonderful Friend

50 Stories for 50 Years

is presented by New Leader Manufacturing

All week long — and for months leading up to this weekend — Indian Creek Nature Center has seen a flurry of activity as the Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center (formerly the Nature Center Guild) get ready to host one of their two signature fundraiser events of the year: Nature’s Noel.

Kathy Severson at nature's Noel in 2016
Kathy has been bringing holiday cheer to volunteers, staff and guests at Nature’s Noel since 2013.

Kathy Severson, president of the Friends group — although she’d really rather you not call her by such a fancy title — has been as busy as anyone. But between tasks prepping for Saturday, she still stops to admire the deer wandering up the hill just outside the windows at the Nature Center, and the very cool ice formations that have appeared on the rain chains on the outside of the building thanks to this week’s quick drop in temperatures and precipitation. 

Kathy became involved with the Friends of the Nature Center after retiring from teaching several years ago. It was volunteering at Nature’s Noel in 2013, in fact, that got Kathy more connected with the Nature Center. A friend had her working the register at checkout that year and the rest, as they say, is history. 

Before she knew it, Kathy was helping orchestrate all the Friends of the Nature Center fundraising efforts, including Nature’s Noel and the Spring Plant and Art Sale, that happen each year. She said her role is that of a facilitator, keeping all the things spinning and having other volunteers to take charge of different aspects of their efforts. “I am really worn out by the end of every day, but this is just a wonderful activity and just fabulous people to work with.” 

Even after being involved with a decade’s worth of Nature’s Noel events, Kathy still gets right into the holiday spirit. There’s so much to be excited about during Nature’s Noel, she says, from the vendors, homemade soups and bakery items, to the incredibly creative and beautiful nature- inspired holiday decor and the ever-popular kissing balls. Kathy said she, like so many others, appreciates how the event kicks off the holiday season in the community.

“A couple of years ago I overheard a young boy, probably a fifth or sixth grader, and he was so excited … he said when he comes to Nature’s Noel each year, that’s how he knows the Christmas season has started. That just really captured it for me.”

Kathy Severson receiving award on behalf of the Friends of the Nature Center
Kathy (center) accepts the Benjamin Franklin Award from the Association of Fundraising Professionals Eastern Iowa Chapter on behalf of the Friends of the Nature Center in 2021.

Kathy and the Friends group work hard to ensure there are gorgeous holiday decorations to purchase, but also work to create an affordable shopping experience in Noel’s Attic, where visitors can come away with something as lovely as a “new to you” ornament for just 25 cents. “Our goal is to have something that everybody can buy,” Kathy shared. 

“Nature’s Noel is just a wonderful time. So many people come out and appreciate the things we, as the Friends, make. And to see somebody leave with those things, it’s such a feeling of joy.” 

The Friends of Indian Creek Nature Center is a special group, Kathy said. “There’s a real sense of camaraderie,” she said of their preparations for Nature’s Noel. “And there are all kinds of volunteer jobs. There’s something for everybody. There’s just something for any skill level or interest level if you want to be involved. And I do hear from our volunteers that they really feel appreciated and welcomed when they are here.” 

Nature’s Noel has taken place for years, and Kathy said shoppers have been dedicated year after year, whether there’s rain, snow or a pandemic (that forced the 2020 event to happen with online sales.) “We just love to see familiar faces each year, and we love to see new people come out, too. Maybe they were here for Monarch Fest this summer and now they are coming back to check out what Nature’s Noel is all about.”

Kathy Severson at Nature's Noel in 2021
Kathy’s reindeer antlers may have changed over the years but her commitment to fundraising for environmental education as remained strong.

Before getting involved with the Friends of the Nature Center, as a classroom teacher at both Johnson and Tyler Elementary Schools in Cedar Rapids, Kathy attended many field trips to the Nature Center with her students. Together, they learned about bees, ecosystems, maple syruping, and tools to measure wind speed and water temperature. 

“Those were always such wonderful days,” Kathy recalled. “I think it’s really important that the Nature Center is a place where kids — anybody, really — can go and experience nature. Oftentimes when I brought kids out with me for field trips, it was the first time they were tromping around in the woods or the first time they saw how to tap a tree or even the first time they saw a deer. Honestly, for a whole class of people to be quiet enough to see a deer is quite amazing.”

With Kathy’s passion for environmental education, it’s fitting that the fundraising efforts of the Friends help support educational programs at ICNC throughout the year. It’s something she said the entire Friends group is very proud of. “We want to support those educational opportunities because it’s really important to us to spread that on to the next generation.”

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