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In Gratitude for the Exceptional Volunteerism of Joe and Marlene Nowak

During this season of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate that we express our gratitude for two very special volunteers that have dedicated their time to protecting, restoring and advocating for natural areas in the Forest Preserves of Cook County. The following testimonies have been gathered from partners and FPCC staff. The Volunteer Resources Team wish Joe and Marlene Nowak good health and happiness in a new phase of life as they have relocated to a new home in Texas.

“I have known Joe and Marlene since 1989 when they took an informal class on restoration ecology with Steve Packard that I helped organize. We visited a sampling of the sites being restored in the region, most of them fairly new at the time. Joe and Marlene (relative newlyweds, still holding hands) were avid learners.  They were already stewards at Jurgensen Woods Prairie and Powderhorn Prairie and wanted to absorb as much as possible to help to understand their work. They attended workshops, lectures, field tours – anything to advance their knowledge of plants and restoration. Marlene was already becoming quite the native plant identification expert and had a great eye for spotting plants.

“My next meeting with them was in 1999 when I was searching for endangered species in Cook County for my work at the Chicago Botanic Garden. Without Joe and Marlene’s intimate knowledge of Zanders, Jurgensen and Powderhorn, I never would have been able to locate many of these species.

“In the early 2000s when the Plants of Concern program was starting up at the Garden, Joe and Marlene attended the training sessions and became POC volunteers. I accompanied them many times over the years to participate in monitoring at their sites.  Even when Marlene developed knee problems, she would come out with her canes and help count the plants she loved. Joe was always at the ready with his camera – his extraordinary plant and animal photos are well known in our region.

“This past summer, Joe again helped POC Research Assistant Andrew Green and me (now a volunteer) with plant monitoring, as always cheerful, eager and helpful.  It was to be our last time in the field with him (and Marlene in spirit from home). I will truly miss them in field seasons to come and wish them well in plant hunting and photographing in their new Texas home.”

–Susanne Masi
Plants of Concern volunteer and former POC manager

When Alice Brandon and Doug Chien stepped up in 2006 to form a new habitat restoration volunteer group at Powderhorn Prairie, Marlene was instrumental in teaching Alice about the site and plants. 

“Marlene met me at Powderhorn on a lovely summer day with her extensive plant list and guided me to the locations where unique and rare plants occurred.  This really helped us focus our efforts on the places that would most benefit these species.  I’m proud to have continued the work of the Nowak’s at Powderhorn Prairie.  They’ve been tough shoes to follow!”

Alice Brandon
FPCC Resource Programming Manager and Site Steward at Powderhorn Prairie

“As stewards of Jurgensen Prairie, the Nowaks provided early stewardship that changed the future course of that remnant. In the late 1970s, the Illinois Nature Areas Inventory visited the prairie and rated it as ‘B’ grade, meaning it had good quality but was suffering from degradation by invasive brush. Without management, the prairie would have certainly slipped from a ‘B’ to a ‘C’ grade over the next decades. Instead, due in large part to the stewardship work of the Nowaks, that prairie was re-visited in 2010 and given an ‘A’ grade (the highest grade), one of the few natural areas in the state to receive an improved grade.”

–Chip O’Leary
FPCC Deputy Director of Resource Management