Life seems to proceed in cycles and phases. It’s been the nature of things for my family and me. Cycles change, a new phase begins, yet in another sense things seem to circle back, making new connections.
Invisible threads seem to connect things together, pulling us in directions we’re destined to go. All we need do is feel the threads, the connections; recognizing the doorways and the paths that are laid out in front of us.
The current cycle has brought our family to a new phase as my wife Carol takes the helm of Prairie Rivers Network as its newest Executive Director. Prairie Rivers Network, a nonprofit river advocacy group, serves as the voice of Illinois’ rivers, streams and watersheds. Rather like the Lorax, Prairie Rivers Network speaks for our rivers.
Nine summers ago, we moved to the Sangamon River, and almost a decade before that, Carol completed her dissertation research on the “Public Comment” process for the development of wetlands policy in the U.S.
This without planning, knowing nor thinking that she would eventually lead an organization that does just that (among many, many other things).
Is this a coincidence? Destiny? An inevitable path? I’m not sure, but I prefer to think it is. I prefer to think it’s all connected together, and that in some sense, it’s supposed to be.
Prairie Rivers Network was connected by other threads as well.
Not long after we moved to the river, just as I was getting my feet wet with the Sangamon so to speak, I participated in a river water testing training by Traci Barkley, then a water scientist at Prairie Rivers Network. As part of this training down by the Izaak Walton Cabin at Lake of the Woods I found myself neck deep in the Sangamon River. That was my first encounter with PRN. It wasn’t to be my last.
Not long after, our family was involved in helping the Upper Sangamon River Conservancy get started. The USRC has since grown into a successful local organization that speaks for the Sangamon in our area.
Two things happened in 2011. The first is that I started writing this column. And one of the stories I wrote about in those early days was the inspiring yet largely forgotten tale of the proposed construction of the Oakley Dam on the Sangamon River. A dam which would have inundated much of Allerton Park down near Monticello.
My informants for most of that story were Bruce Hannon and John Marlin. The part of that story that hasn’t yet been told by me is that Prairie Rivers Network grew directly from the efforts of those activists opposing the Oakley Dam project on the Sangamon River: namely, Bruce Hannon, with John Marlin serving as Prairie Rivers’ first Executive Director.
The second thing in 2011 was that I was honored to be the winner of the Prairie Rivers Network River Steward of the Year Award, having been nominated for my work with USRC. That year at the Prairie Rivers Network Annual Dinner, accepting the award from Executive Director Glynnis Collins was one of my proudest moments. Now Carol is the new ED.
The award was a framed reprint of an iconic photo of Macon County farmers Dale Williams and Carl Ross protesting the Oakley Dam project at an Illinois legislative hearing. The photo depicts the two farmers with a pitchfork between them in the vein of the famous painting ‘American Gothic’; it became something of a symbol of the Oakley protest movement.
A side thread: this photo was taken by John Filo, the very same photographer (and then Kent state photojournalism student) who took the iconic photo of the crying Mary Ann Vecchio after the Kent State massacre by the National Guard of four college students. My older daughter Lauren is now a Kent State Fashion Merchandising student.
In any case, in late 2014, Glynnis Collins, the very successful Prairie Rivers Network Executive Director for the last seven years announced that she was stepping down. This just as Carol was coming off of managing a very successful (but ultimately losing) Congressional Campaign and was considering alternatives.
She applied for the job (one of only one job that she applied for) and was hired as the new Executive Director.
It has seemed for a while that our lives and Prairie Rivers Network have been intertwined, like invisible threads pulling us closer together. Yet there’s more.
Prairie Rivers Network and I are literally close together, with their office on Fox Drive in Champaign being about two office buildings down from my own campus office in that same office park. So now Carol and I can car pool together, reducing our carbon footprint in the process.
(Carol and I both worked together at that same U of I office back in the early 2000’s.)
And now I’m a leader with the USRC, I write this column on the Sangamon River for the Citizen and my wife Carol is the Executive Director of the state’s leading river advocacy group.
If one wanted to, one could argue that since we’ve been river people for quite a while now, much of this is mere coincidence or opportunism rather than something more.
But is it merely a coincidence? Or is it destiny? An inevitable path? I’m not sure, but I prefer to think it is. I prefer to think that invisible threads connect it all together, and that in some sense, it’s supposed to be.
It’s been an exciting path so far; we’ll see where this new phase leads.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, June 4, 2015, by Scott Hays