Making Conservation Personal with StoryCorps

Two people are talking on the radio. Their heartfelt conversation is so real that you pause to listen and realize . . . it’s a StoryCorps interview.

StoryCorps is a non-profit organization that preserves and shares stories that “build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” People interview people they know: parents, kids, spouses, friends, co-workers, and the vibe is gentle, supportive, and genuine.

StoryCorps began in New York City, but now travels the country in an Airstream trailer equipped with a mobile recording studio. This past summer, they came to Kalamazoo and offered recording sessions to selected non-profit organizations and SWMLC was one of those they chose!

We were delighted and surprised by this opportunity to talk about conservation on a personal level!

But slots were limited and choosing who to interview was tough. Knowing that history has a way of fading if it’s not actively engaged, we decided to focus on SWMLC’s early days.

 
 
(To the many friends and supporters that we didn’t contact, please accept our sincere apologies! Your stories are valuable to us and even though the StoryCorps opportunity has passed, we plan on doing future interviews with the people who are part of SWMLC’s history. So, we may still contact you!)

SWMLC Media Specialist Amelia Hansen and Stewardship Director Mitch Lettow conducted the interviews, pairing people with shared experiences in hopes of sparking stories. Questions were sent ahead, then Amelia and Mitch met the interviewees at the Kalamazoo Public Library, which generously provided recording space after StoryCorps’ equipment was stolen from the Airstream. A StoryCorps technician helped folks get started, regulated the sound, and signaled when they reached the 40-minute limit.

Long time friends and SWMLC supporters Al Gemrich and Donna Keller, with StoryCorps facilitator Francesca Peña.

Long time friends and SWMLC supporters Al Gemrich and Donna Keller, with StoryCorps facilitator Francesca Peña.

The interviewees did an amazing job!

Sharing microphones in the tight, stuffy recording room, they all dug in deep to offer gently humorous tales and thoughtful, positive, inspiring reflections on the past and future of conservation in southwest Michigan. We’ve received three recordings so far – here are some highlights:

“What one person can accomplish, without wringing their hands and saying, ‘they should do this or that’ – no, I can do this! We’re making a difference. I know we are.”

Kristi Chapman

Stewardship volunteer, longtime SWMLC supporter & friend

“Nature is what brings us all back together.”

Nate Fuller

Former SWMLC Conservation & Stewardship Director

“For me, to love the land is to be the best person I can be.”

Al Gemrich

Conservation easement owner, former SWMLC board member, longtime supporter & friend

“The idea that a well-meaning landowner could protect their land from development that some future owner might want to do . . . I thought, this is so cool, I need to be part of this.”

Kevin Haight

Land protection volunteer, former SWMLC board member, longtime supporter & friend

“There’s a conservation movement and it’s been coming for a long time . . . and I’m proud to be part of that.”

Donna Keller

Conservation easement owner, former SWMLC board member, longtime supporter & friend

“Conservation reminds me of how important the long view is.”

Renee Kivikko

Former SWMLC Executive Director

“A sense of curiosity helps, and don’t give up hope.

Pamela Larson

Former SWMLC Communications Director

“I need to do something where I feel I’m contributing somehow. I’m busy with other things, of course, but this is a big part of my life.”

Stan Rajnak

Stewardship volunteer, longtime SWMLC supporter & friend

“This (conservation) part of my life would not have been fulfilled . . . without the vehicle of a land trust and the community it created.”

Tom Springer

Former SWMLC board member, longtime supporter & friend

“I quickly realized that I was wrong on multiple levels and that I wasn’t protecting the land from the people, I was conserving land with the people.”

Emily Wilke

Former SWMLC Conservation Projects Manager

Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy’s StoryCorps recordings will be archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress – giving future generations a glimpse into our current conservation world.