Here are some thumbnail word portraits of the wise, dedicated, fun-loving, generous and varied people who did the wonderful work that resulted in the restoration of Somme Prairie Grove.
Pete Baldo: professionally the technician responsible for managing one of the accelerators at Argonne National Laboratory. Pete raised huge quantities of rare seed in his back yard, and hundreds of plugs of rare species that don’t take well from seed. Many of the plants we see today are descendents of those he raised. Also, for many years Pete was “Tool Czar” of the North Branch Prairie Project. He managed the tools that hundreds of volunteers counted on when they turned out on weekend workdays.
Jerry Sullivan: a free lance writer and passionate birder, Jerry was the first bird monitor at the site. The methods and protocols he developed here — with coaching from the best experts in the Midwest — became the system that the Bird Conservation Network adopted for expert volunteer monitoring of bird populations in the Chicago Wilderness region. Jerry was later hired by the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to supervise their restoration outreach program.
Joan Meersman: a homemaker, mother, and grandmother — she took charge of the North Branch Seed Gardeners network. Under her leadership more than 100 households raised literally millions of rare seeds for planting at Somme and eleven other North Branch sites. All seed is originally gathered within 15 miles (for prairie species) or 25 miles (for savanna and woodland species); then it is propagated by volunteer master gardeners or Chicago Botanic Garden professionals for distribution to people willing to raise seed for restoration purposes.
Gail Schmoller: an aspiring publicist, Gail took on the job of publicizing the work at Somme and other local sites, in part to establish herself as a professional. Her efforts resulted in a great mass of publicity (all Chicago region newspapers, New York Times, Time Magazine, Smithsonian, along with many local and national TV specials that featured the work at Somme — helping millions of people to gain understanding of what restoration and biodiversity conservation are all about.
Mike Durbin: with a job in finance too difficult for lesser mortals to describe, at Somme he took on a powerful and simple project. He caged the young bur oaks and hazelnuts to protect them from the deer until they were big enough to stand up for themselves. He also engaged his children, Greta and Marlow, to help record data on these trees’ progress.
Karen Glennemeier: a PhD. Biologist, Karen designed many of the studies and analyzed much data that is used to improve the restoration effort from year to year. She is also hard at work introducing forest preserve habitats and creatures to her two young children.
Stephen Packard: director of Audubon — Chicago Region and former long time Science and Stewardship Director for the Illinois Nature Conservancy, Stephen devoted much of his volunteer time as steward of Somme Prairie Grove, making plans with Forest Preserve District staff and being a coach of other volunteers.
Kevin Clay: in 2004, during his summer break between high school and college, Kevin became Somme’s first full time intern. In fact, beyond full time, his internship on many days ran “from sun-up to sun-down.” Kevin wanted not only to learn all aspects of restoration but also to “have a Thoreau experience” in the process. He contributed enormously.
Susanne Masi: when her children were old enough to go off on their own, she decided to start a new career. For training, she organized a stewards’ advanced training program at Somme, which attracted experienced volunteer land managers from around the region. In time she focused especially on endangered plant monitoring and now heads up the “Plants of Concern” volunteer monitoring program at the Chicago Botanic Garden.
Jane and John Balaban: respectively a pharmacist at Evanston Hospital and a math teacher at St. Ignatius College Prep, this couple organized the workday schedules, designed the seed preparation process, taught seminars, and chaired volunteer planning meetings for the North Branch region. They also developed more types of expertise than can be listed here. One shining example — they learned to identify the great numbers of species of difficult sedges (similar to grasses) and helped locate populations of many of them for restoration. Much of the “turf” matrix (from which the flowers spring and in which so many of the animals live) owes its existence to their generous and bright-spirited efforts.
Father Jay Risk: Rector of St. Giles Episcopal Church in Northbrook helped form and lead Friends of Northbrook Forest Preserves. He spoke eloquently about the need to be good stewards of nature at many events and hearings, recruited friends and parishioners to help with the work, and wrote influential letters and articles. He showed up for workdays that fit his busy schedule and worked heart and soul under the hot summer sun and in the cold winter wind.
These happy heroes are just a sampling of the hundreds of people who have contributed. See our “Honor Roll” for a fuller and more organized list.