Conservation Award Winners for 2021
Conserving habitat for birds, pollinators, and other wildlife is a primary goal of Robert Cooper Audubon Society. Since 1983, our chapter has honored more 150 individuals and organizations that have conserved and restored habitat or educated the public about the importance of protecting wildlife and maintaining biodiversity. In December 2021, we celebrated the contributions of seven champions of the environment.
Cooper Award: Amy Wilms
The chapter’s highest honor, the Robert H. and Esther L. Cooper Award, was given to Amy Wilms, Co-Manager of the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, where she has worked with her husband Carl for 15 years in managing the Sanctuary’s 700+ acres. She is also current President of the Indiana Audubon Society, after serving the Society in various other roles for more than a dozen years.
As one of our state’s most passionate and knowledgeable advocates for birds, Amy has developed wide-ranging areas of expertise. For example, she is a master bird bander of hummingbirds, songbirds, and Northern Saw‐whet Owls and has helped train many other Hoosiers in bird banding. In 2019, she secured a grant to construct Indiana’s first permanent Motus tower, which tracks birds outfitted with radio transmitters.
In all that she does, Amy is dedicated to educating kids and adults about birds, helping ensure that our future is filled with even more passionate advocates for nature.
Yuhas Award: Randy Lehman
The Phyllis Yuhas Wildlife Habitat Preservation Award recognizes individuals and organizations for development or preservation of habitat that contains significant wildlife and/or native plant life populations. This year we honored Randy Lehman, former (now retired) Site Manager of the Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Ind.
From 1999-2016, Randy worked tirelessly to better connect the legacy of author Gene Stratton-Porter to the ongoing restoration of the Limberlost wetlands. He helped develop educational programming for elementary schoolchildren and, as one of his greatest legacies, Randy worked for years to make the Limberlost Visitor Center a reality, along with the pavilion at the Loblolly Marsh.
Since 2017, he has served on the Friends of the Limberlost board in various outreach capacities, and outside of the Limberlost Randy has been working tirelessly to expand and enhance trails in Adams County.
Hibbs Awards: Bill Hubbard and Tom McConnell
In an unprecedented decision this year, we gave the Clyde W. Hibbs Conservation Education Award to two individuals, Tom McConnell and Bill Hubbard, for their excellence in educating others on conservation issues and practices.
Tom McConnell, professor of biology at Ball State University, has co-authored (with Ball State students) six books in his Conservation Tales series, covering topics ranging from monarch butterflies to elephants to invasive carp. The books have been used to teach children about wildlife conservation in a wide range of school and public settings, including the United Way Literacy Program for Muncie Community Schools.
Throughout his long career as an educator, Tom has looked for creative ways to help both students and fellow teachers learn about conservation. In the summer of 2022, for example, he’ll be part of the Conservation Educator Academy at the Indianapolis Zoo.
After retiring from a 40-year career as a high school biology teacher, Bill Hubbard took on a part-time naturalist position at Limberlost State Historic Site for 11 years. After “retiring” again in 2020, he joined the Friends of the Limberlost board and has continued volunteering at the Limberlost. There he has not only portrayed the character Limber Jim for public programs, but he has also helped create a 4th-grade natural history program for regional schools.
A creative and talented writer and photographer, Bill has also educated children and adults with three books about water, birds, and the Limberlost, and he has co-created seven videos that celebrate the life and writing of Gene Stratton-Porter.
Greene Award: Carolyn and John Vann
The Richard Greene Public Service Award, which recognizes active involvement in serving the public’s environmental interests and concerns, was awarded to Carolyn and John Vann for their dedicated leadership of Solarize East Central Indiana. Retired from careers as professors of (respectively) biology and marketing at Ball State University, Carolyn and John have a long history of leading sustainability initiatives at the university and in the community.
Since retirement, they have focused their energies on Solarize Indiana, a non‐profit, volunteer-run organization that promotes and educates Hoosiers on solar energy. As leaders of Solarize East Central Indiana’s regional initiative, they organize public meetings to raise awareness about solar installations, tax incentives, and net metering. Thanks to the Vanns, dozens of homes throughout East Central Indiana are now powered by solar energy.
Past Award Winners
Our chapter presented its first two conservation awards in 1983 and quickly expanded to four annual awards. The Charles D. Wise Youth Conservation Award followed in 2003. All five awards given today are named in honor of individuals who’ve had a significant impact in our community’s or chapter’s work to serve and protect the natural environment.