On a recent, lovely July afternoon, Jean Mansavage and husband Blair Semple were inducted into the Good Oak Society at the Leopold Shack, as the culmination of a behind-the-scenes tour—guided by executive director Buddy Huffaker—of the Legacy Center, the Leopold-Pines Conservation Preserve, and the Shack itself.
We were inspired by these individuals’ passion and dedication to a land ethic and the ongoing work of this foundation. Normally, we would compose a few paragraphs to introduce Jean and Blair to the thinking community, but Jean’s own words tell the story much better than we could ever hope to:
I first read A Sand County Almanac in an undergraduate environmental history class at Texas A&M (1987), and immediately suffered a serious bout of homesickness for my native Wisconsin. Decades later, in 2006, I read Curt Meine’s biography of Leopold, Aldo Leopold, His Life and Work—something just clicked for me and I began a career shift from military to environmental history while working for the Defense Department in Washington, D.C. Also in 2006, I made my first trip to the Shack (see below picture with my mom), which cemented my desire to find a way to help others gain a greater appreciation for the Sand Counties when I retire back to central Wisconsin.
Over the last decade I took part in the inaugural Land Ethic Leader training at the ALF Headquarters (2010) and took part in a Leopold Education Project session (2017). I applied what I learned in both of those programs to a course I began teaching (U.S. Conservation History) for the Audubon Naturalist Society in D.C. In that class I provide my students a short biographical presentation about Leopold; we read and discuss the Almanac; play a game of Sand County Jeopardy (with prizes); and also offer a screening of Green Fire for a local audience and hold a discussion afterward.
In addition to bringing a greater sense of purpose to my paid work, learning about Leopold and expanding my personal Land Ethic has also provided me a tangible roadmap for a rewarding retirement career when I return to central Wisconsin. One way for me to repay Leopold’s many gifts is to provide the Aldo Leopold Foundation with a portion of my trust. This isn’t just part of my legacy, but also a small way of paying tribute to my parents, Lois and Emil Mansavage, who instilled in me a deep love of nature and an understanding that “to whom much is given, much is expected.”
Indeed—although we never expect such generosity, but we know the future of conservation and a land ethic will thrive all the more thanks to this legacy gift from Jean and Blair!
Thank you both from the heart of the sand counties!