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Planting a Future of Good Oak

The first time Karen Mesmer witnessed whooping cranes in the wild, she was paddling her kayak on the Wisconsin River out behind the Leopold Shack. It’s hard to see this splendid event as mere coincidence. More like cosmic karma, if you ask us. It wasn’t the first time our newest Good Oak Society inductee had experienced an invisible force gently connecting her life’s journey to the Leopold mission. 

Mesmer, who taught middle school science for 33 years, found herself and her family living in Baraboo following a move from Northwest Alaska—delighted to have settled so near the working place of her life-long heroes, Aldo, Estella, and the Leopold Family.

“I was aware that Sauk County was the Sand County in the A Sand County Almanac when I moved to Baraboo in 1988,” Karen said, adding, “I was thrilled to be so near the Shack and was able to get to know Sue and Charley Bradley and Nina Leopold Bradley. I have helped with educational aspects of the Aldo Leopold Foundation over the years.”

Mesmer recently bequeathed a generous percentage of her estate to the foundation to further our efforts to foster Leopold’s land ethic and pay it all forward for coming generations. 

“One of the many things that I love about the Aldo Leopold Foundation is that they preserve history and train for the future of conservation. The Foundation focuses on the influence Leopold had on our thinking and tries to make sure that his ideas are carried to younger generations to be put into action.”

Close-up of Karen’s Good Oak Society plaque.

Karen herself has done so much of that very work both as an active friend of the foundation and as a conservation-minded science educator. In fact, thanks to her, The Middle School Science Club of Baraboo was the very first group to visit the Leopold Center after it was completed in 2007. 

“I have visited the Leopold Reserve often, bringing students and my family. We read parts of A Sand County Almanac in class and I made sure that students knew how fortunate they were to be living so close to the Shack,” Mesmer said.

It’s dedication that starts with her children and grandchildren. “We [with husband, Robert Rolley] take them outside for ‘adventures’ most of the times that we are together. We find critters in the river, watch eagles at the dam in Prairie du Sac, go see thousands of Sandhill Cranes (and a few Whoopers!) in fields near Baraboo and hike around trying to figure out how things work in the ecosystem.”

Karen, who first read A Sand County Almanac in 1978 as a part of an ecology class in her native Ohio, was curious about nature from early on. “I always loved to be outside, investigating everything that I could. My dad tells the story about when I was two or three and found a pill bug (isopod) under a rock. I kept watching it and didn’t want to come inside,” she said.

It’s clear, Mesmer is still watching nature closely. We, along with the natural world, thank her for her financial commitment to many tomorrows of all things natural, wild, and free, and all who cannot live without them! 

Karen is, truly, now and forever, good karma and Good Oak.


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