We are honored and privileged to have the following community leaders on our Mississippi Valley Conservancy Board of Directors.
Gretchen Benjamin grew up in Winona, Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River. She loved spending time on the river as a kid especially when she could go out on her neighbor’s houseboat to the “islands”. Her love and passion for the outdoors drove her to pursue a career that allowed her to protect what was important to her. She graduated from the University of Montana with a degree in natural resource management in 1982. Her first professional jobs were in Yellowstone and Voyageur National Parks as a seasonal park naturalist, but the desire to work year around and have a permanent job led her to a career with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. She spent almost 25 years working for the WDNR on the Mississippi River before leaving to work for The Nature Conservancy, also on the Mississippi River. Her love for the Mississippi River was amplified as she spent more and more time on the river through what is now 30 + year career.
As a founding board member, she considers the support she provided to Mississippi Valley Conservancy to be one of her major life achievements for the beautiful landscape that surrounds this magnificent river. She is proud to be back on the board after a six-year absence. She lives in La Crosse and has a grown son.
Roy Campbell has lived primarily in La Crosse since 1956. He graduated from UW-Eau Claire with an accounting major and received an MBA from the University of Minnesota. He was a CPA and also owned a software business. He owns several hundred acres of mostly woodland in La Crosse County.
Some activities Roy enjoys in his leisure time are biking, hunting, hiking and snowshoeing.
Bob is honored to be serving on the board again after resting out for a couple years. He brings a long career in natural resource and land-use planning to the table.
He has worked as a forester, wildlife manager, land appraiser and land use planner, with forays into outdoor recreation and transportation planning. Bob remains a strong believer in all manner of conservation of resources, and is active in several state-wide rail passenger advocacy organizations. He hopes someday to see fewer single occupancy cars on seemingly ever more and wider roads and more people happily riding fast passenger trains.
He has his 33 acres of woodland and savanna in a conservation easement with the Conservancy, and is developing a small oak savanna eco-type on the property. Bob says, “as an old forester, it took me several years to finally learn it’s OK not to plant trees on every inch of land and I’ve become a prairie advocate."
Pat Caffrey grew up in rural northwestern Wisconsin and spent much of his youth in the woods. He got his master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from the University of Wisconsin in 1973. He worked for one year for the University of Wisconsin Institute of Environmental Studies as a research specialist. The balance of his working career was with the City of La Crosse as a design engineer, superintendent of wastewater and director of public works. Pat retired in 2005.
He is the site steward for the Conservancy's La Crosse River Conservancy and the New Amsterdam Grasslands and also serves on the boards of Friends of the Blufflands, Friends of McGilvray Road, Coulee Region Humane Society and Friends of Perrot State Park. Pat and his wife Peg Zappen (a Mississippi Valley Conservancy founding member) live near the village of Trempealeau.
Pat's special interests include land management, prairie restoration, invasive species and habitat protection.
Laurie is a Landscape Architect turned professor who teaches in Recreation Management at the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse. Having grown up in mid-Michigan, she developed a love for the outdoors during her many hours spent exploring wooded wetlands and helping out with her family’s farm. Moving to the Driftless eight years ago opened the door to exploring a new land ethic, beginning her foray into organic gardening, and repopulating exhausted farmland with native wildflowers to support local pollinators.
Laurie’s research on the ways we become connected to national parks such as Isle Royale and Sequoia & Kings Canyon helped her understand the importance a place such as the Driftless region has in our identity.
In her leisure time, Laurie enjoys hiking, camping, paddling, snowshoeing, nature photography, and managing invasives in the 8 acres of woods and prairie she shares with her partner and their dog.
Drake Hokanson is an author, photographer, editor, largely recovered college professor. Current job title: independent, organic, free-range scholar. Poor pay but great benefits.
He has taught at the college level for some 30 years at several institutions, most recently at Winona State University, in journalism, photographic communication and aviation, where he is Professor Emeritus, which provides a free parking space.
He is the author or coauthor of three books and the photographer of several photographic exhibits which have traveled nationally. He has new projects underway.
He likes nature. He’s a lousy birder and enjoys misidentifying them to the amusement of children. Two memorable nature experiences: hiking in the Himalayas and stepping in a mud dauber wasp nest in Iowa.
He is a traveler, having visited several odd corners of the globe, always with his beloved wife of several decades, Carol Kratz. He also likes airplanes, splitting firewood, prairies, the Mississippi River, and tent camping most anywhere.
He really likes Mississippi Valley Conservancy and its devotion to critical land protection
John holds degrees in geography and landscape architecture, and teaches human and environmental geography, GIS (geographic information systems), and mapping at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. He grew up in the Hudson Valley of New York State. He has worked with communities in the US (Vermont), Mexico (Calakmul Biosphere Reserve region, Yucatan Peninsula, indigenous mountain forest villages in Oaxaca, and the Huasteca Potosina), and Honduras (Muskitia/Rio Platano Biosphere Reserve), to map and plan land use and conservation and productive activities. His first job, thirty years ago, was with the Central Park Conservancy of New York City.
He loves to travel with his wife Sangeetha and elementary-school-age son Luke, sometimes by canoe. He has always loved maps as tools for exploring and understanding our lands, and for expressing our visions of the future.
His childhood affection for woods, fields, hills, and rivers was nurtured by his family, his teachers, and by neighbors like the late environmental activist and musicologist Pete Seeger.
Dave grew up in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, where he explored the outdoors and fished the surrounding lakes while growing up. He went to UW-Madison and obtained a BA-HIstory and then a law degree from the UW Law School in 1980. He moved to La Crosse in 1980 and worked for the City Attorney's office for 5 years. He also worked in private practice for several years and then worked 29 years in the County Corporation Counsel office before retiring in January, 2017.
He has served on various boards and committees, including the City Park and Recreation Board, Corporation Counsel, and the La Crosse County Historical Society Board. He currently volunteers for the Upper Mississippi Regional Wildlife Center and as a guide at the Hixon House.
His hobbies include traveling, kayaking, tennis, cross country skiing and fishing, especially trout fishing in the Coulee region. He and his wife Karen enjoy spending time at their cabin on Otter Lake in northern Wisconsin.
He married Karen in 1982 and they have 2 children. They love the natural beauty of the driftless area and plan on staying in this area during retirement.
Dorothy Lenard is an Administrator for the School of Natural Sciences, Engineering and Math at Viterbo University. She has a degree from Michigan Technological University in Forest Hydrology and a Master’s in Servant Leadership from Viterbo. She and her husband Rich grew up in a small bay town on Lake Michigan surrounded mostly by State land. Yes, she loves and misses the lake effect snowfalls and outdoor saunas in the winter. Having lived in all regions of the United States, they eventually chose the Driftless area to settle down in and raise their three children. She has been active in numerous community activities and boards. Her passion is studying the environment, especially water protection. While on the La Crosse City Council, she worked with others to pass in 2009 the City of La Crosse and County of La Crosse Strategic Plan for Sustainability.
In the summer, her family has a huge community garden in their yard where their specialties are garlic and perennials. Preparing and sharing sustainable food with family and friends is her favorite hobby.
Beth is the integral ecology director for the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration. She has an evolving purpose that includes serving as a resource and promoting environmental and sustainability best practices that support care for all of God's creation. Beth has worked as a sustainability consultant with experience in developing and managing renewable energy workforce development programs. She served as the education and workforce development manager at the Connecticut Clean Energy Fund, and managed K–12 and museum-based curriculum initiatives on behalf of the fund. She was a registered LEED Accredited Professional, focused on green schools for place-based learning and is an Interstate Renewable Energy Council registered auditor.
Prior to her work for FSPA, Beth was a stay at home mom and a school garden coordinator in
Beth grew up in southern Minnesota on a hobby farm, where her family lived with her grandparents. It was an intergenerational effort to carefully cultivate the land. This connection sparked her love and interest for nature. Now, Beth and her husband are running after their three daughters and they try to avoid rain and black flies with family outdoor adventures. She practices permaculture at her La Crosse home and loves to cook and preserve anything she can grow or forage.
My name is Frederick Ragan. I am a Student at UW-L pursuing a BS with a major in Biology and a minor in Environmental Studies. I was born and raised in La Crosse, WI. I am working towards graduate school to study population genetics and hope to someday become a state or federal biologist. I was lucky enough to work for two summers as a land management intern for MVC. I spend my free time fishing, hunting, canoeing, and camping.
Mike is a native of Dodgeville, WI. He received an Associate Degree in Conservation Technology form Fox Valley Technical College, Bachelor of Science in Land Management from Univ. of Wisc. - River Falls, and a Master of Science in Wildland Recreation Management from the Univ. of Idaho. Retired from the Wisconsin DNR in 2007 after thirty years as a state park manager and natural resources educator. Currently on science faculty of Upper Iowa Univ. instructing courses on environmental science and natural resources. Also work part-time as a Grant County Deputy Sheriff - mostly in court security. Live on 22 acres near Bagley, WI with wife, Kathy, where they are are busy restoring part of their land to oak savanna and prairie. Served on MVC Board from 2005 to 2012. Three years as Board Secretary.
Interests: Travel, canoeing, camping, flying as a private pilot, bicycling, motorcycling, fishing, hunting.
Dave has been a writer and editor for about 60 years with experience in daily newspapers, agricultural publications and electronic news services. He also owned and edited weekly newspapers. He is a Navy veteran, and taught journalism at Winona State University.
A founding member and volunteer for Mississippi Valley Conservancy for 20 years, Dave was its first president and twice served as interim executive director. He is a volunteer easement monitor and also serves on the communications committee.
His hobbies include playing music, wood cutting, skiing, kayaking, hiking, bird watching, getting away to small cabin in Minnesota, tennis and reading.
Dave has been married to Gretchen for 48 years. They have two grown children and four grandchildren.
Pam Thiel grew up on a farm in north central Illinois and developed a strong sense of place. One of her early childhood memories is walking down to Covel Creek and collecting water striders with her shoes because she was not fast enough to catch them with her hand. The die was cast for a developing biologist.
She studied at Illinois Wesleyan University, Florida State University and received a MS from UW-L in aquatic biology. Her entire professional career was spent on various aspects of management and research on the Upper Mississippi River System in the 5-state area of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri while working for the Illinois State Water Survey, the Wisconsin DNR, and the US FWS. Pam held leadership positions in several professional organizations.
Pam has a long affiliation with the American Association of University Women where she served as the local and state president, regional director, and on the national board for two terms. She was also on the local boards of Audubon and the League of Women Voters.
Pam and her husband, also a retired biologist, have lived in the La Crosse area for nearly 50 years. Pam loves to garden, fish, hike, read, and enjoy nature.
Steve Ventura is a Yooper by birth (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) and has lived in Madison since 1980. He enjoyed a long career at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is now professor emeritus with the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Soil Science. His expertise in remote sensing and GIS led him into many application domains, including natural resource management, environmental protection, land tenure, community and regional food systems, and biofuel production systems. Recent research and outreach focuses on land contamination and urban agriculture.
Steve and his wife Margaret own 140 acres of land between Highland and Boscobel in Grant County. This land provides unlimited opportunity to while away the hours maintaining trails, gardening, firewood cutting, and hunting and gathering. When they bought this land three decades ago, it was over-grazed and high-graded. Land management since has been oriented to preserving remnants of oak savanna and white pine rock-faces while recognizing that a changing climate means helping much of this land adapt to a new normal.
Tim received his Bachelor of Science degree in Conservation with a minor in Field Biology from the University of Wisconsin – River Falls. Currently he is working to receive a Master’s Degree in Entomology (study of insects) at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.
Tim began his career with the Wisconsin DNR as a Wildlife Technician preserving prairies, wetlands, and Oak Savannahs. Worked two seasons with the Minnesota DNR as a Natural Resource Technician.
Tim currently holds the position of Resource Conservation Management Specialist with Buffalo County Landy Conservation Department.
In his spare time, you may find Tim hunting, fishing, or anything outdoors.
Barbara has been involved for over 50 years with environmental protection at local, state, and national levels. Her special interests include environmental health, environmental politics, energy and climate change.
She was one of the co-founders of Mississippi Valley Conservancy and is a past board member. In addition, she has served numerous other organizations as a Board member, co-founder and financial supporter: the Hixon Forest Eco-Park, Coulee Partners for Sustainability, the Coulee Region Group of the Sierra Club and the La Crosse Community Theater. She has also been active with the League of Women Voters, the Pump House and Options in Reproductive Care. She was a member of the Minnesota- Wisconsin Boundary Area Commission.
Barbara was Board President of Lutheran Hospital at the time of their merger with Gundersen Clinic. She served two terms on the National Sierra Club Board and has been active on the Club's State Chapter ExCom. She also works with Midwest Environmental Advocates.
Barbara was honored by Gathering Waters as their 2003 Conservationist of the Year and in 1998 received a Special Service Award from the National Sierra Club. Her hobbies and interests include art, especially painting; reading, she's a member of 3 book groups; canoeing, loves the Boundary Waters; and cooking, which she finds very creative. She and her husband Donald have been happily married since 1960. They have 2 married children and 4 grandchildren.
Don Frank grew up in Chicago and earned his engineering degrees from the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1951 and 1957. He spent two years in the Navy as an engineering officer on a destroyer escort.
The Trane Company brought him to La Crosse where he met and married Barbara. In 1965 Trane moved them to Lexington, Kentucky, where they enjoyed hiking and canoeing in the Red River Gorge and got involved in saving this national treasure from being dammed by the Army Corps of Engineers. Thus began a long and continuing membership in the Sierra Club.Barb went on to later serve two terms on the Club's national Board.
After moving back to La Crosse, the BWCA has been a special vacation place for them.They've taken over 25 camping trips there, starting out with a 75 pound canoe, tenting, portaging and cooking over a campfire. They've since graduated to a 30 pound Kevlar canoe and now stay in a cabin on the edge of the wilderness.
Don retired from Trane in 1988, but continued to do several special assignments for them. After that he served as President of Machine Products Co. in La Crosse, and then as President of Fusion Coatings Co. in Winona. He finally learned how to retire for good, but soon became very involved with volunteer activities. He was a community member on the Gundersen/Lutheran Board of Trustees and has served on several of its committees. Don also was treasurer for the Mobile Meals program where he was frequently drafted to make deliveries. Don has had a 20 year commitment as Coordinator for the La Crosse area AARP Tax-Aide program.
When Barb termed out as a Mississippi Valley Conservancy board member Don joined the Board and served as its treasurer for a few years before the Conservancy went to accrual accounting. He is now an Emeritus Board Member after having termed off the Board in 2017. Don and Barbara have two married children and four grandchildren.
Philip Gelatt, an avid bird watcher and CEO of Northern Engraving Corp., joined the Mississippi Valley Conservancy board of directors before the organization went public with an event on Grandad Bluff October 13, 1997. He brought both substantial financial backing and vision to the young organization. As the board huddled in the Grandad Bluff shelter after the public announcement on a windy, cold day, Gelatt asked the group to identify a project that could make a significant, immediate impact beyond the ability of the young organization to tackle. Craig Thompson told him of a 310-acre farm near Holmen in the Conservation Reserve Program that was a breeding area for rare grassland birds such as Bell’s vireo. It was likely to be developed for housing in the near future. Not long after that, Gelatt said that he would acquire and preserve the farm by swapping land that he owned next to the freeway in Onalaska. It took time, but several years later, he did just that. Gelatt had been restoring the New Amsterdam Grasslands to prairie for several years with the Conservancy's help. The Conservancy purchased it in 2007 using money from the State Stewardship Fund and a donation of a substantial part of the value by Northern Engraving.
Craig Thompson is a recovering birder. For the past 30 years, he has held various positions with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, specializing in migratory bird conservation and landscape scale protection efforts. He holds adjunct faculty appointments in the Biology Departments of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and Viterbo University and provides technical support for conservation initiatives in Costa Rica and Peru. He’s never met a motmot he didn’t like.