Announcing Our 2024 Conservation Award Winners!

We are so pleased to recognize these individuals and organizations who are doing extraordinary conservation work in their communities:

Paul Butler Memorial Award 

The Conservation Foundation’s Paul Butler Memorial Award is presented each year to individuals who support the cause of open space protection, cleaning up our rivers and streams, and educating the public about conservation and our natural environment.  This year’s recipient embodies those ideals to the very core of his being. We are so pleased to honor Jerry Adelmann as the 2024 Paul Butler Memorial Award recipient!  Jerry recently retired as the President and CEO of Openlands, a more than 60-year-old advocacy and conservation organization based in Chicago. In that role since 1988, Jerry’s leadership and vision brought Openlands to the forefront of some of the biggest conservation initiatives not only in northeastern Illinois, but across the country.  From the creation of the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, to the Little Calumet River and African American Heritage Water Trail, to the Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge, to successful local, state and national policy initiatives, to the Liberty Prairie Reserve, Jerry’s tenure has been a true inspiration for all of us in conservation.

“I can, without reservation, proclaim Jerry as a legend and we congratulate him on a well-earned retirement,” said our President/CEO Brook McDonald.  “What I can also say about Jerry is this – during my tenure here at The Conservation Foundation for the past 28 years, I have always admired, looked up to and followed his lead on many local conservation initiatives.”  We all commend and thank you, Jerry, for your many decades of inspiring leadership.

When told he had been chosen as this year’s Paul Butler Award recipient, Jerry said,“The Conservation Foundation is one of the leading land trusts in the Midwest addressing the critical issues of climate and loss of biodiversity through their impressive record of land protection.  I am truly honored and humbled to receive their coveted Paul Butler Award.”

We all commend and thank you, Jerry, for your many decades of inspiring leadership.  Congratulations!!

About the Paul Butler Memorial Award

Since 1989, for more than 30 years, The Conservation Foundation has presented the Paul Butler Memorial Award in memory of a public-minded conservationist or organization. As a founding member of The Conservation Foundation, Paul Butler was a generous contributor of open space land and money to the Foundation.  He also gave tirelessly of his time from our inception in 1972 until 1981, a total of ten years serving on our Board of Trustees.


The Betty Bradshaw Golden Acorn Award

It is our true honor to present the first-ever Betty Bradshaw Golden Acorn Award for Environmental Education to elementary school educators Sue Avila and Anna Leuer!

Anna Leuer and her Mighty Acorns students at Currier Elementary

Currier Elementary School in West Chicago was the inaugural school for The Conservation Foundation’s Mighty Acorns environmental education and stewardship program back in 1998.  As Fifth Grade teachers at Currier Elementary, Anna Leuer and Sue Avila were there at the beginning 25 years ago and have participated in Mighty Acorns every year since, our longest-running Mighty Acorns partnership.

For two and a half decades, Sue and Anna’s shared dedication to providing experiential opportunities in nature for their students has been making childhood connections to nature that remain with them through adulthood. Because Blackwell Forest Preserve is in Currier School’s backyard, Sue and Anna advocate the importance of their students having the opportunity to get up close to nature right in their own community.  Making a difference close to home gives these students a feeling of ownership and pride in this natural space, and students have often been seen visiting the preserve outside of school hours with their families to show them the results of their stewardship efforts.  Close to 2,000 students, many of them dual language, have been given the opportunity to connect with and help nature through Sue and Anna’s classes!

Sue Avila and her Mighty Acorns students at Currier Elementary

Carolyn Wagner, The Conservation Foundation’s Mighty Acorns Program Coordinator, has also been part of Mighty Acorns since the beginning, and has developed a deep friendship, respect and regard for both Anna and Sue.  “Anna Leuer and Sue Avila go above and beyond by extending the student’s field trip experiences by engaging them in further research of their discoveries, nature writing, and drawing,” said Carolyn.  “Anna and Sue inspire their students to care for plants and animals in their local forest preserve, and encourage them to be the next generation of environmental stewards.  They are truly Champion Teachers and Nature Heroes.”

For their 25 years of dedication connecting their students to the natural world through our Mighty Acorns program, Anna and Sue have inspired the first-ever Betty Bradshaw Golden Acorn Award.  Betty Bradshaw was a much beloved past trustee of The Conservation Foundation, and one of our most generous financial donors.  She had a deep passion for educating local youth and inspiring in them a sense of wonder for nature, and through their work with Mighty Acorns, Sue and Anna do exactly that.  In Betty’s memory and in honor of their extraordinary efforts and partnership, we are so pleased to recognize them with this award.


2024 Conservation Partner of the Year

We are so pleased to name the Village of Minooka as The Conservation Foundation’s 2024 Conservation Partner of the Year!

On the Village of Minooka’s website, they reference the fact that the name Minooka means “contentment” and “good land” in the Potawatomi language of the people who called it home prior to written historical records.   To that we would add, “and good water”! Minooka lies along and between the DuPage River and Aux Sable Creek, both of which are priority corridors for land and water protection.

The leadership of the Village of Minooka, including Mayor Ric Offerman, Parks Director Terry Houchens, as well as their board and staff are dedicated to making sure their land and waters remain “good”. Much to their credit and the benefit of Minooka residents, they can see beyond what exists today, and have made a commitment to be aggressive in developing open space and parks to improve the health and quality of life in their community.  In fact, Minooka has set a goal to have 20% open space in the Village!  They have participated for many years in the Lower DuPage River Watershed Coalition, staffed by The Conservation Foundation, as well as partnered with us and the Three Rivers Library District on Conservation@Home presentations to help local residents bring nature right into their yards, and we’ve worked together on some incredibly exciting land protection projects over the past couple of years.

Village of Minooka Parks Director Terry Houchens (L) andMayor Ric Offerman (R)

The Village of Minooka shares our commitment to preservation in the Aux Sable creek corridor. Aux Sable Springs Park, the crown jewel of the Village of Minooka’s already-extensive parks system, sits north and west of the Village proper.    The 120-acre park was opened less than two years ago, and features expansive wetlands and trails that meander pleasantly through old growth woodlands, with the park’s namesake springs bubbling along both sides, on their way to the eastern banks of the Aux Sable Creek.  The loop trail takes you past several specimen oak trees that have stood watch over this land for many hundreds of years, along the creek and then through restored prairies on the way back to where you started. Just this past fall, we partnered to preserve an additional five acres to expand the park, which when added to Aux Sable Springs and the property next to it jointly owned by the village of and the Kendall County Forest Preserve District, preserves a large corridor of woodlands, wetlands along the creek.

The Aux Sable Creek expansion followed a unique partnership project we worked with the Village of Minooka on to reclaim a piece of land for nature right in the heart of downtown Minooka.  We were able to purchase an old excavator’s yard adjacent to Minooka’s Veterans Memorial Park, which the Village will be restoring to double the size of the park!  Often when we think of land and the urgency to protect it, we invoke the “when it’s gone, it’s gone” mantra.  While it’s true that land once developed may never be returned to its original state, this reclamation story in Minooka is a perfect example of how it’s never too late to reimagine the future of a piece of land, and to give it back to nature and the community.

This vision and commitment to a community of people and nature thriving together is why we are so proud of and grateful for our partnership with the Village of Minooka, and why they have been named our Conservation Partner of the Year.  Congratulations to Mayor Offerman and all of our friends at the Village!


Conservation@Home Award

The 2024 Conservation@Home Award winners are the Village of Glen Ellyn and the Glen Ellyn Park District, who have both been innovative partners in bringing Conservation@Home and its principles to the residents of Glen Ellyn in a variety of ways.

Conservation@Home and Conservation@Work are all about educating and empowering people to bring nature close, right into their yards, beautifying and improving the health of their families and their communities in the process.  And once they’ve incorporated the use of native plants, rain barrels and other water conservation techniques into their landscaping practices, we believe they deserve to be recognized for their efforts!!  The Village of Glen Ellyn and the Glen Ellyn Park District have proactively shared information about the program with their residents, partnered with us on rain barrel and native plant and tree sales, and put together a Sustainable Yards Tour of Conservation@Home certified yards around Glen Ellyn.  Attendees could tour these gardens for ideas and inspiration, and it also gave well-deserved recognition to those who were leading the charge and putting conservation to work on the landscape!

For the last handful of years, the Park District and the Village have also worked together sharing funding to join our Conservation In Our Community program to bring further conservation and volunteer resources to Glen Ellyn residents.  This year, the Village of Glen Ellyn even paid for residents to get their home landscapes certified as environmentally-friendly through The Conservation Foundation’s Conservation@Home program! certifications for residents.  Our staff visited 50 different yards to share advice on how native plants could address water issues and attract wildlife and pollinators to these properties, and ultimately certified 12 of them.  It isn’t often that we forge a partnership like we have in the Village of Glen Ellyn.  The Park District, Village and the Environmental Commission have been great to work with, and they are very dedicated to improving the environment on both their properties and the private property across the Village,” said our Conservation@Home Program Manager Jim Kleinwachter.

Spalding Point’s Conservation@Work certification

One of the most recent non-residential certifications in Glen Ellyn was the Conservation@Work certification of Spalding Point, a natural area and historic park owned by Glenbard Central High School.  Stewards of the site, including Ron Aubrey and Lisa Mertz, led the charge to remove invasive buckthorn, honeysuckle and black locust trees, planted thousands of native plugs and seeded many areas along the railroad at the high profile location along Crescent Blvd in downtown Glen Ellyn.  Six new sun and shade native gardens have been created, as well as the Heroes of Freedom Veteran’s Memorial and Glenbard West Vietnam Veterans tree memorial plaques, and outdoor learning space for students is in the works.

These projects and the many others not named demonstrate the Village of Glen Ellyn and the Glen Ellyn Park District’s cooperative commitment to making conservation a core value in their community, and make them an example for other communities to follow and the clear choice for The Conservation Foundation’s 2024 Conservation@Home Award.


Salt Smart Community Award

Village of Homewood truck for liquid deicing applications

The Village of Homewood and their Public Works Department have been chosen as The Conservation Foundation’s 2024 Salt Smart Community Award winners!  Their forward-thinking approach to winter deicing operations and commitment to collaboration and cooperation with neighboring communities made them the standout choice to our watershed staff members.

Standard salting practices overuse salt, spreading more salt than necessary to melt snow and ice, and this waste comes at the cost of clean water in local rivers, streams, and lakes.  While public safety is the Village’s number one priority, they understand that that means more than clearing roads in the next winter storm.  They are also committed to finding ways to conduct their winter operations without comprising water quality for current and future Village of Homewood residents.

“The Village’s Public Works Director, John Schaefer, really sees the value of reducing salt use and adopting the best practices for both safe roads and protecting the environment,” said Hanna Miller, Watershed Project Manager with The Conservation Foundation.  “They communicate and educate on the practices they use with other village departments, and John is a fantastic winter operations resources.  I have learned a LOT from him!”  Recently the Village of Homewood hosted a tour of their Public Works operations to show other members of the Chicago Area Waterways group their equipment and cutting edge liquid operations.  Using these new technologies, the Village has been able to reduce their salt use by half, an incredibly impactful and impressive feat!

While those who have been at their jobs as long as John has (42 years by his count) may become stuck in their ways and routines, John’s philosophy is to constantly challenge himself and his staff to be open to new ideas, standards and best practices, and to always learning from and sharing knowledge with other communities.   In his view, we no longer drive Model Ts – times change, and we need to change with them and be receptive to new ideas and technologies.  “Though I know our CAWS watershed workgroup’s acronym is for Chicago Area Waterways Chloride Workgroup, I kind of look at it as Cooperative Agencies Working Collectively to improve our watershed,” said John. “No one community can fix our water quality problems alone – it’s all of us working together that will make a better watershed.  We’re educating people, sharing our budgets, making small and big changes collectively to eventually see better water quality.  And that IS what’s happening – we’re seeing improvements! The Conservation Foundation, Hanna and Jennifer, work real closely with us and keep us moving and pushing forward. It was a really nice surprise to be nominated for this award!”

Congratulations to John and the entire Village of Homewood Public Works staff!  Thank you for your thoughtful efforts as a Salt Smart Community.


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