Ruth and Lester Sendecki have been associated with the Indian Creek Nature Center since the early 1980s. First they became members, then Ruth “somehow” became a board member for two terms (1993-1999), during which time she was also Program Committee chairperson. In recognition of her ICNC volunteerism, in 1995 Ruth received a jack-in-the-pulpit award. Soon after Ruth’s second board term expired, Lester retired and became a volunteer teacher-naturalist. During these years, they did everything from mixing pancake batter to boiling maple syrup to leading various programs, including wildflower hikes, canoe trips and caving adventures. Lester followed in Ruth’s footsteps by receiving his own jack-in-the-pulpit award in 2004. Ruth and Lester moved to Colorado in 2010.
Stories from Days Volunteering
“One of our earliest memories at ICNC was at an early Maple Syrup Festival, when all the pancake batter was still mixed by hand! We both remember being very tired at the end of the day. There are so many stories and memories of the Nature Center that it’s hard to pick a favorite.”
For Lester, his favorite memories as a teacher-naturalist were going “cave crawling” at Maquoketa Caves for kids’ summer camps. He recalls, “On one trip we had two girls who had been on a previous trip. Once we hit the trails, the girls took over leading. All I had to do was try to keep up and offer a bit of scientific comment from time to time. I hope those girls have returned as trip leaders.”
Lester continues, “Fifth Grade Prairie & Woodland Walks were another favorite activity for me. One Sunday afternoon, during the season when we were doing these walks, (Ruth and I) were on our own prairie hike. We saw one of the fifth graders, in the prairie, leading his parents on the same exploration/experience. Very rewarding.”
For Ruth, her favorite ICNC memory is harder to pin down. “It could be being a member of the group that started Women’s Walking Workshop (now Women in Nature), or leading wildflower walks with (retired Director of Education) Jan Aiels, or mixing pancake batter at Maple Syrup Festivals — especially once we upgraded to electric mixers!”
Ruth adds, “One of Lester’s caving experiences at Maquoketa Caves was very special to both of us. I had taken the day off from work to share leading duties with him. The day went well, with us switching groups at lunch. Toward the end of the day, as we were walking back to the vehicles, one little girl came up to me and said, ‘Lady, this was the bestest day of my life.’ Hopefully that little girl will have many more ‘bestest’ days in her life, but we were both happy to be able to give her that one. That also illustrates what we enjoyed about our time as part of ICNC — being able to introduce and share part of nature with others.”
Lester adds another fond memory: “While I was tending the boiling maple syrup vat, a gentleman from California came in. I explained the whole tree-to-bottle process to him. After a short pause, he said, ‘I never knew that maple syrup came from maple trees.’”
Early Days in Nature
Both Ruth and Lester became Champions of Nature at an early age.
Ruth shares, “My grandparents owned a home in a small town in western PA. When we would visit, I was allowed to roam freely over the mountainside that was in their backyard and thoroughly enjoyed showing the treasures I found (interesting leaves, rocks, etc.) to the rest of the family when I returned at the end of each day. Exploring the outdoors and what it has to show us has remained with me ever since.”
Lester shares, “I grew up in Nutley, NJ, near Newark, in easy commuting distance of New York City. But as a family we spent a lot of long weekends on a farm in Schoharie County, New York. There I saw one of the neighbors making maple syrup from sap collected from his very old trees. We had crop land, pasture, unmanaged grassland, a creek and acres of hillside. This was my big backyard.
“After we arrived in Cedar Rapids, in 1980, the Nature Center became my new big backyard. All those days and experiences wandering around that farm in New York State translated easily into first the guided walks and later my teacher-naturalist service.”
Ruth and Lester continue to follow and support Indian Creek Nature Center from their Colorado home base. “We support the Nature Center as we want both students and adults to continue to learn about the land beyond the end of the pavement.”
All of us at ICNC join together to pay tribute to this couple, who have spent so many hours creating Champions of Nature in their own image. The Sendeckis celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on September 15, 2023 while exploring Oregon. May they spend many more years exploring nature — and passing on their love of it — to others.