Sherwood “Woody” Boudeman: Conservationist Extraordinaire

“I’m a conservationist, not a preservationist,” says the man whose efforts account for protection of almost 1,000 acres, which include valuable farm land in Kalamazoo County’s Gull Lake and Gull Prairie area, the kind of land so difficult to pro- tect because of the absence of funding for farmland preservation programs. Sherwood “Woody” Boudeman’s commitment is the result of seven decades of love for the land. The seeds were planted in the good ground of his youth.

As a founder of SWMLC, the Gull Lake resident warms to his subject. “Nature became a part of me at an early age. My parents took us to the National Parks when we were growing up, but I would say my respect for the land came from my father and through a lifetime of hunting and fishing. Hunters are the best stewards of the land.”

An active outdoorsman, Woody has lived a life of adventure spanning three continents. After graduation from Drake University where he lettered in tennis and later received the coveted “Double D” award for Distinguished Service, Woody added an MBA. He spent six months as a “buck sergeant,”a federalized National Guardsman in troubled Detroit during the 1967 riots, beginning a successful business career with 20 years as the Agricultural Administrative Services Director with The Upjohn Company, service as a director of Comerica Bank, and founder and owner of Arcadia Investment Bank. His extensive community involvement and contributions include trustee and director of Bronson Hospital, the YMCA, and a host of other local and national outdoor and environmental groups.

Woody has been sailor as well as sol- dier, winning sailing trophies and com- peting in the International Star Class Yacht Racing championships. Cross- country skier, swimmer, runner, moun- tain biker, last spring found him crossing the finish line first in his age group in the Sherman Lake YMCA “Shermanator” triathlon. But with all of his interests and activities, Woody never lost his sight of his first love and com- mitment to the land. His efforts at land preservation began modestly in 1965 with purchase of the Nichols farm near Gull Lake. In a day when there is inex- orable pressure to carve up the landscape, this modest, intrepid individual bucked the trend by reassembling large tracts of land, proving it is not impossible to “put Humpty-Dumpty back together again.” As he assembled acreage, he educated himself, participated in various conservation programs, became an innovator, experimented with various plantings of native prairie and oak savanna, cultivated a half-century old walnut grove, and had his property federally designated as a Monarch Butterfly Waystation. He recruited technical support, hired a land manager, established good relationships with area farmers dependent upon leasing prime agricultural lands, and implemented “best practices” as part of agricultural leases, leaving  harvest residues until spring so hundreds of Sandhill cranes can use fields during annual migrations.

Woody and his wife Sharon are generous in sharing the bounty and beauty of the land with four children and seven grandchildren so three generations enjoy the wonders of the natural world. Birding groups are welcomed. The Plein Air Artists of West Michigan have painted the seasons’ moods. By opening the land to the Kellogg Biological Station, students’ minds were opened to studies and research. As he drew nigh to beauty, beauty drew even closer to Woody until one day he discovered he owned both sides of a “Natural Beauty Road.” Because beauty must be shared and pro- tected, Woody began to place conserva- tion easements on one property after another until the acreage protected exceeded that of any other landowner. The area grew like faith the size of the grain of mustard seed until it “waxed a great tree” — the Michigan State Champion Osage Orange tree.

It is unclear which came first, the transformation of land or of character of the man, but in the process, Woody became an ambassador, a super salesman, a Pied Piper for land conser- vation, reaching out to others, inviting their involvement. His advice for the younger generation reflects his nautical background: “Get outdoors. Keep your head out of the cockpit. Don’t just look at the compass. Look at the wind and waves. Educate yourselves about the natural world. Don’t wait to do something to make a better world.” He has lived these words. He is an artist of the future creating a unique legacy. With the customary smile and twinkle in his eye, he adds, “I’d like to be here in 50 years to see how things have turned out.”

It takes people like Woody Boudeman to put into action their ideas, who encourage others by radiating a courage and vision which is often the product of an inner sense that is not easily communicated in words. Woody, like others drawn to the wisdom of the natural word, knows intuitively its value, which finds voice in the words of the poet Wendell Berry when he says:

When despair for the world grows in me
and I awake at night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with the forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

SWMLC is fortunate to have among its founders, members and friends, Woody Boudeman. Because of his efforts, future generations can “rest in the grace of the world and be free.”

— Alfred J. Gemrich
This piece was first published in Landscapes, Vol. 18, No. 1, Spring/Summer 2010

The entire Boudeman family was there for the sign dedication, 2010.
Front row: Sharon Boudeman, Carol Lynn Boudeman.
Back row: Woody Boudeman, Erin Tilbury, SWMLC executive director Peter Ter Louw, Kappy Boudeman, and Sherwood Boudeman.
Photo by Alfred J. Gemrich