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Volunteer Newsletter: Remembering Neil McDermott

By Jan Pietrzak

 

For more than thirty years, Neil McDermott was a powerful force in habitat restoration. Whether squatting on the ground trying to coax flame from an incipient fire, or strapping on his brush cutter to mount an assault on resprouts, he was a fixture at workdays throughout our region.

 

When he began, he worked at as many places, with as many stewards, as he could. His stated purpose— to learn all he could from the best in the field. Then he employed that knowledge in his own work and shared freely with others he encountered.

 

Talk to people who knew him and the accolades come tumbling. “He was so good with the kids.” “A great guy. Very energetic.” “A hard worker in the early days of Palos.”

 

Kathy Garness writes: “Neil was a hero to me, always a gentleman, with his quiet, gentle humor, and always kind, persevering, tireless in his efforts to make Ted Stone more and more beautiful and buckthorn-free. [I have] many happy memories helping herbicide while he cleared the invasives from that north end of the prairie. Yes, you had to work hard to keep up.”

 

Keeping up with Neil is a common theme. Jean Dubach and Ann Petric, both herbiciders, describe themselves as “the women who have been chasing Neil the past couple years.” Bob Erck says, “We would run after him trying to clean up.”

 

Bob also notes Neil’s helping spirit. “When I first got a chainsaw it was the guidance that Neil provided, looking over my shoulder, to help me polish up my skills.”

 

Neil was soft-spoken, stoic, and tough. As Ted Stone steward George Birmingham said, “Many of you may not have known he has battled cancer for the last several years because it barely slowed him down.” That’s why, despite his advanced age, it came as a jolt to hear of his passing. He was someone you expected would keep on rolling, as he always had.

 

George also says, “I know we will all miss his enthusiasm and vigor at our workdays.” Yes, we surely will.

 

Photo by Bob Erck

Visit two of the treasures of the Forest Preserves of Cook County