Annual Conservation Awards
The Illinois Audubon Society awards program exists to recognize excellence in fulfilling the mission of the Society. Any individual, organization or agency is welcome to make nominations based upon the selection and eligibility criteria as specified for each award. Descriptions, downloadable nomination forms and a history of past recipients below.
Mary Glenn Kirkland Volunteer of the Year Award
This award was established to honor Mary Glenn Kirkland for her nearly 40 years of commitment as an officer, board member, and volunteer for the Society. In addition to her volunteer duties, Mary Glenn’s outgoing personality and friendly warmth continues to inspire and earn the respect of old and new members.
This award recognizes the outstanding accomplishments of volunteers in support of the goals, activities and operations of the Society. The award will be presented to a volunteer or volunteers who have demonstrated:
- Exceptional volunteer efforts and dedication to the goals and objectives of IAS as demonstrated by continued service and accomplishments.
- Dependability as demonstrated by years of service, support of IAS programs, integrity, and recognition by others for IAS volunteer service.
Eligibility: Open to any IAS member.
Illinois Audubon Society Conservationist of the Year
This award recognizes significant contribution to wildlife and habitat conservation in Illinois. The award will be presented to an individual (either as a profession or an avocation) or group that has created and/or performed a conservation-related project having extraordinary or lasting impact in Illinois.
Eligibility: Open to all Illinois residents or organizations. There is no specific time-frame for the completion of the project as it is assumed some projects may have had an extended time frame for completion and in fact, may be on-going.
Illinois Audubon Society Youth Conservationist Award
This award recognizes young people in Illinois who have demonstrated their commitment to the environment. The award will be presented to a youth or youth group that has performed a conservation-related project having significant or lasting impact on the protection and/or enhancement of wildlife species and/or wildlife habitat.
Eligibility: Open to all Illinois youth or youth group under the age of 18. Only those projects completed/occurring within the last 18 months prior to the nomination deadline will be eligible. Projects that directly relate to Illinois conservation will carry more weight than projects that do not.
Past Award Recipients
Mary Kirkland Volunteer of the Year
2001: Mary Glenn Kirkland. The Mary Glenn Kirkland Volunteer Award was created in 2001 to honor Mary Glenn Kirkland for her outstanding dedication and nearly 40 years of commitment as a officer, board member, and volunteer. Kirkland joined IAS in 1963 and by 1967 she was an active board member involved on committees and later as Secretary. From 1981 to 1985, Kirkland served as the Society’s President.
2002: Kay MacNeil, Jeanne DeRaimo, in recognition of their exceptional skill and dedication in organizing a Butterfly Garden Tour for the greater Chicagoland area. The tour, which brought in over $12,000, stands as one of the Society’s most successful fundraisers to date.
2004: Stewards of Bremer Sanctuary and Stewards of War Bluff Valley Sanctuary, in recognition of their outstanding work in the continuing care and maintenance of the Society’s largest wildlife sanctuary and promoting public interest through special educational programs and fieldtrips.
2005: Rita Renwick, in recognition of her many years of service as an IAS board member, officer and volunteer, and for outstanding leadership in saving Copley Park for the herons of Lake Renwick, working to establish Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, and a member of the Friends of Plum Island.
2006: Aura Duke, in recognition of her many years of service as an IAS board member and for outstanding leadership of the Education Committee, where she shared her artistic talent and boundless enthusiasm to bring nature education to young people throughout the state.
2007: John McKee, in recognition of his 30 years of service to the Society as IAS board member, including the positions of Vice President, President, and Chair of the Nominating Committee; for his integral role in planning and organizing IAS’s annual Starved Rocked Bald Eagle Watch Weekend; for his role in Starved Rock Audubon Society include leading numerous field trips, teaching birding identification classes, and many years of bird and butterfly monitoring in LaSalle County.
2008: Vern Kleen, in recognition of his many projects on behalf of the Society, such as, conducting hummingbird festivals around the state, the Acres for Wildlife Habitat stamp collection program and Christmas and spring bird counts; for tirelessly sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for birding; his volunteer work at Adams Wildlife Sanctuary in Springfield, especially his bird-banding efforts during spring and fall migration.
2009: Mary Anne Harrison, in recognition of her long time service as a Board Director and member of the Lake/Cook chapter and the chair of the IAS Finance Committee. Her dedication and financial knowledge have been and continue to be instrumental in the long term financial stability of Illinois Audubon Society.
2010: Marilyn Campbell, in recognition of her volunteer service record with the Society going back over two decades. Dedicating many hours to the Middlefork Chapter, she also serves as consultant to the Illinois nature Preserves Commission and as a member of the Illinois Endangered Special Protection Board. Since leaving the position as Executive Director for the Society, she has served as the volunteer editor of Illinois Audubon magazine.
2011: Martin Kemper, for his dedicated work in designing and developing full color posters depicting three Illinois Audubon Society sanctuaries. The posters were produced over a three year period in which Kemper spent countless hours visiting the properties to gather pictures and descriptions that expertly highlight the Society’s mission of habitat preservation and management.
2012: Tom May, for his years of dedication and active participation in the Society. may has been an active member of the Kaskaskia Audubon Society since its iinception and has also served many years as a board member for the Society. Using his professional talent as an educator, he has led countless bluebird nest box building workshops. May initiated a kestrel nest box and banding program in southwestern Illinois and maintains years of data on hiw work. He is best known for his popular Wisconsin field trips to observe saw-whet owls, whopping crains, and sandhill cranes each fall.
2014: Mike Kennedy, for his outstanding volunteer dedication at the Society’s Adams Wildlife Sanctuary located in Springfield. Since completing a University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Course in 2011, Mike logged over 1300 hours of volunteer time for Illinois Audubon Society and also Friends of the Sangamon Valley
2015: Rich & Marion Miller for their dedication to initiate, organize and implement the construction of Chimney Swift towers in Kane County.
Conservationist of the Year
1998: Drs. Richard and Jean Graber, in recognition of their deep commitment to conserving and preserving our natural resources. As ornithologists for the Illinois Natural History Survey, the Grabers professional life was dedicated to the study of the state’s bird populations. The Grabers also donated nearly 500 acres that comprise the IAS War Bluff Valley Sanctuary, where their legacy of habitat protection will live on perpetuity.
1999: Maury Brucker and Emiko Yang, in recognition of their dedication to saving and restoring 1 acre of Grade-A glacial drift hill prairie from residential development. The Hopewell Hill Prairie was dedicated as an Illinois Nature Preserve in 1998. Inspired by the Brucker’s foresight and drive to preserve this rare prairie in their subdivision, a neighbor agreed to protect an additional 0.3 acres, bringing the total protected Grade-A glacial drift hill prairie to 1.3 acres.
2000: Ernest Ballard, in recognition of his contribution to environmental education southeastern Illinois. Instrumental in establishing the Little Wabash Audubon Society chapter of IAS, Ballard went on to donate his 210-acre farm and create a nature center. The Ballard Nature Center is a place for families, educators and school groups to enjoy and develop an appreciation for nature whether hiking an interpretive trail in a prairie or wetland restoration, participating in an environmental workshop, or watching songbirds at the bird feeding area.
2001: Dr. Richard Bjorklund, Distinguished Professor of Biology, Emeritus—in recognition of his outstanding academic career in which he taught hundreds of students in environmental biology and participated in Field Science Institute for Teachers; for the many years of volunteer effort on behalf of birds and their habitats including 40 years of unfailingly monitoring heron rookeries and in more recent years eagle nests; and for a habitat restoration project on 44 acres of land he purchased adjacent to Sand Ridge State Forest where, over his career, he had conducted various avian studies.
2002: Debra Carey, Doris Carey, Hazel Reuter, in recognition of their years of land protection, conservation education, and volunteerism on behalf of Illinois flora and fauna, for their leadership in the formation of the Lee County Natural Area Guardians, and for their conservation ethic that has inspired community and family members.
2003: Scott Simpson, in recognition of his exemplary focus on the acquisition, protection and enhancement of the unique natural resources of the grassland prairies of central southeastern Illinois. Since 1985, Simpson not only excelled at his position as site manager for Prairie Ridge State Natural Area, but he also found time and enthusiasm for assisting IAS with land conservation efforts by facilitating the acquistion of the Robert Ridgeway Grassland, Karl Bartel Sanctury, and Graber Grassland. Simpson exemplifies the best in a public employee often working beyond the normal working hours to meet the growing public demand to learn about Prairie Ridge by readily accepting requests to speak before groups, schedule visits to viewing blinds, and to host field trips.
2004: Don Goerne, in recognition of his outstanding leadership in the preservation of Plum Island. Because of his heartfelt passion to save this unique natural area from development, the view of the Illinois River from Starved Rock, ancient Native American sites, and important winter habitat for bald eagles have all been secured for future generation. A willingness to turn to other partners and pursue every avenue in his quest for help resulted in only saving Plum Island, but its dedication as an Illinois Audubon Society sanctuary. The Society commends Goerne for both his conservation ethic and environmental activism.
2005: John Wallace, in recognition of his long-standing passion for the protection of Natural Areas and Wilderness in the Shawnee National Forest. Because of his personal pursuit of justice, a federal judge reviewing special-use permits of campground owners found that the U.S. Forest Service had to be accountable for the protection of Shawnee Natural and Wilderness Areas by upholding its own rules. John has earned the Society’s utmost admiration in his defense of our natural forests in the tradition of the great John Muir.
2007: Vern Kleen, Springfield, retired IDNR employee—in recognition of his tireless effort to educate others and raise awareness of the importance of habitat protection through his actions such as coordinating the Stamps for Habitat program, IAS field trips and many Hummingbird Festivals. Kleen’s was also recognized for his contributions in the field of scientific survey and also as the driving force behind the data gathering in the compilation of information for the Breeding Bird Atlas, published by IDNR in 2004.
2010: 100-Year Bird Census Ornithological Team of Michael Ward, Jeffery Walk, Steve Bailey, T.J. Benson, Jill Deppe, Stacy Lischka and Jeff Brawn. In 2007, this team began the daunting task of conducting a state-wide bird census, repeating the survey that had previously been undertaken in 1907 and 1950. Over the course of three years, bird communities were sampled from a diversity of locations. Over 580 transects and hundreds of point counts were conducted. The project produced a book entitled, “A Century of Change, Landscapes and Bird Populations of Illinois,” which will provide an invaluable resource for scientists and bird enthusiasts for years to come.
2011: Jean “Susie” Schreiber, honored for her work over the past 18 years helping to drive a massive cleanup of PCB-contaminated Waukegan Harbor as well as hundreds of acres of surrounding dunes, wetlands and ravines. In addition, Schreiber has also worked on convervation issues in other capacities for decades, including helping to establish the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet, is a former Winnetka park District Commissioner and member of the Winnetka Plan Commission.
2012: Jim Smith, honoring his lifetime commitment to land conservation. In 1999 Smith and his late wife Eleanor placed a permanent conservation easement on thei 150 acre Champaign County farm. Registered wtihthe Illinois nature Preserves Commission, the property includes a 1.2-mile segment of the biologicall significat Salt Fork River. A 100-box bluebird trail has kept Smith busy for many years, as have his many contributions educating the public about the iimportance of protecting and preseving Illinois natural areas.
2013: Al Pyott, co-founder and past president of The Wetlands Initiative, in celebration of his lifetime commitment to land conservation his long career of advancing conservation initiatives in Illinois. A leading conservation innovator in Illinois for decades, Al Pyott played a central role in the protection of two Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention as well as the ongoing restoration of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Joliet. From 1987 until 1993, Al Pyott was executive director of the Illinois Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. He has served on the Board of Directors of the Nature of Illinois Foundation, OpenLands Project, Wetlands Research, Inc., and on the advisory boards of the Cook County Forest Preserve and the Illinois Nature Preserve Commission. Today, Al Pyott remains active as a leadership volunteer with The Wetlands Initiative where he is a consistent innovative voice for pursuing practical solutions to today’s biggest conservation challenges.
2014: Claudia Emken, recognized for her long history with land conservation advocacy. From1991 to 1997, Claudia was the full-time constituency liaison for the Department of Conservation, later named Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR), where one of her lasting accomplishments was creating Conservation Congress. Thanks to Claudia’s tenacity, Conservation Congresses successes included: creating environmental license plates with money going to support state parks; habitat stamps with funds going toward habitat preservation; establishing The Conservation Foundation to raise tax-deducible funds to support various natural resource related programs and creating a division of conservation education to increase awareness in formal and informal education systems.
2015: Mikel Ollech, recognized for spearheading the fishing line recycling effort in coordination with Springfield’s City Water, Light and Power. Ollech built recycling stations to collect improperly discarded fishing line. He later collected the waste for recycling by a fishing tackle company. Uses for the recycled material include plastic benches, fish habitats and other uses.
Youth Conservationist of the Year
1998: Beth Borgo, Tarah Brusich, Sarah Goss, Plainfield High School—in recognition of their dedication, over a three year period, to the protection of the Lake Renwick Heron Rookery and their work in educating others about its importance. The students created large displays depicting the location and importance of the island for nesting bird species, which were used for public display and education at the IAS Chicago Flower and Garden Show booth; they volunteered at the booth and handed out information about the rookery; they planned and conducted a dance, “Rockin’ for the Rookery,” at their school, which raised funds to help with the purchase of the land; and they acted as volunteer guides at lake Renwick during the summer season.
1999: Rogers Elementary School Classes, Marquette Hts.—in recognition of their four-year fundraising effort for wildlife conservation in Illinois. Through the sale of t-shirts and other eco-friendly products they raised over $3,350 for the Illinois Conservation Foundation, $1,000 toward the effort to reintroduce state endangered river otters, $1,100 toward the purchase of critical habitat for the state endangered Illinois mud turtle, and $1,260 toward the installation of a bat-friendly gate at Brasher cave to protect the hibernating federally endangered Indiana bat and state threatened southeastern bat.
Decatur Classical School, Chicago—in recognition of the students’ (grades 4 through 6) outstanding work in the Asian longhorn beetle study– a community problem-solving project accomplished with the support of their teachers and school staff. The 3-phase project included development of an educational packet, making a documentary film, and organizing a Town meeting.
2003: Henry Cilley, McHenry County—in recognition of his efforts to preserve critical habitat for the Blanding’s turtle, a state-threatened species in Illinois. When construction threatened the turtles and their habitat at Exner Marsh, Henry, age nine, was instrumental in raising awareness of local residents and elected officials by obtaining nearly 1,000 signatures on a petition and presenting the petitions to elected officials and various natural resource agencies. In the end, the developer agreed to implement all of the recommendations offered by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources for protecting the turtle, ten acres of the 30-acre site was transferred to the McHenry County Conservation District as a buffer to the marsh, and the storm water management system will enhance water quality before it enters the marsh.
2007: Eve and Nadia Studnicka—in recognition of their efforts to support Operation Migration, a Wisconsin organization that has become recognized for its whooping crane migration project. When Eve and Nadia, of Chillicothe heard about the violent storms of February 2007 that wiped out all one of 17 young cranes following the Operation Migration ultralite aircraft, they decided to turn their sadness into positive action. Eve had recently learned of the Japanese legend which promises positive outcomes to anyone who folds a thousand origami cranes. The Studnicka sisters vowed to fold 1000 cranes and donate all the proceeds to help support future generations of whooping cranes raised by Operation Migration.
2011: Wetland Warriors, middleschool students from Creal Springs School in Williamson County were chosen for their commitment to the Cache River Wetlands. Over the past four years the Warriors have performed hands-on work including planting, building nestboxes, performing water quality tests, presenting their experiences and research to the public, created a website to promote public awareness of the wetlands and have raised funds to aid the reintroduction of the alligator snapping turtle. In 2010, the Warriors won a $20,000 grand-prize award in the Disney Planet Challenge which the students will be using to fund visitor access and habitat improvements at the wetlands.
2012: Katie Schmierbach, for her interest and initiative iin wildlife conservation which developed after a pair of barn owls nested in a tree in the family’s front yard in the summer of 2008. The appearance of these beautiful birds subsequently caused her to question why this bird was listed as an endangered species in Illinois. Many hours of searching literature and compiling findings about their natural history led her to choose this species as a focus of her projects with Marissa Chapter of the FFA. Katie continues to work with barn owls in terms of criticial habitat location and evaluation, nest box construction and placement and seraching for nesting birds in southwestern Illinois.