2017 Winner: Mahlon Dunkel
Mahlon Dunkel was born in 1924. Losing his parents early in life, his childhood was spent with grandparents and other relatives in LaGrange County. He has spent his life building a legacy of appreciation for natural resources and agriculture. He was instrumental in starting university extension services, the 4-H program, and the county soil & water conservation district in LaGrange County from their very beginnings. A lifelong farmer and longtime employee of Indiana Farm Bureau, Mahlon has served as an ambassador for conservation wherever he has gone, and to whomever he has come in contact. More recently, as a member of Pheasants Forever Chapter 592, Mahlon has served as one of the primary movers of the Chapter’s wildlife habitat establishment crew, donating literally hundreds of hours operating equipment at controlled burns, warm season grass and tree plantings and other habitat establishment efforts.
Mahlon still lives on his 200-acre eastern LaGrange County farm. Although others do the farm work these days, Mahlon oversees operations on a regular basis, taking at least one spin around the farm on his John Deere Gator daily. He insists that tenant farmers practice conservation tillage, crop rotation, and erosion control practices on his property. He has installed extensive areas of wildlife habitat, supported the installation of a lake sewage treatment plant for nearby Fish and Royer Lakes on property that he formerly owned and farmed. He has constructed ponds, installed numerous bird houses for many species, and practiced integrated pest management on his farm long before that was a common practice. Surface water on the Dunkel farm is protected with filter strips and grassed waterways. Mahlon practices what he preaches.
2016 Winner: Gene Lightner
Gene has spent many years working hard to protect and enhance the Elkhart River. He has served as a Director on the Board of the Elkhart River Restoration Association for several years, representing the upper reaches of the Elkhart River in Noble County. More to come...
2015 Winner: Marcy Colclough
Known to many as the "Queen of Green", Marcy Colclough has been working tirelessly on clean water efforts in the St. Joe River Watershed (SJRW) for over 15 years. Her passion for natural resources protection and improvement has been the driving force behind a number of watershed projects. She has been involved in developing watershed management plans throughout the SJRW and her energy has been instrumental in bringing groups together to implement those plans.
Marcy has played a lead role in all of the major projects accomplished by the Friends of the St. Joe River Association since 2007. She was largely responsible for the success of the Wetland Partnership Project, the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program, the SJRW Fish Migration Barrier Inventory and more recently the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. These projects have not only been important for achieving conservation in the watershed, they have been critical in allowing the Friends of the St. Joe River Association to play a supportive role to its partners.
2014 Winner: Scott King
There is one name associated with conservation efforts surrounding McCoy Creek, a coldwater tributary to the St. Joseph River. That name is Scott King. King, a long-time resident of Buchanan, MI, was presented with the 2014 “Al Smith Watershed Stewardship Award” at the 7th Annual Watershed Council meeting hosted by the Friends of the St. Joe River (FotSJR). This prestigious award honors volunteers and conservation professionals who work in all or part of the 15 counties in Indiana or Michigan that drain to the St. Joseph River. The award, named in honor of FotSJR founder Al Smith, represents individuals that go above and beyond the call of duty in maintaining a healthy St. Joseph River Watershed. The unique handmade award which is in the shape of the St. Joseph River Watershed will be on display after May 14 at the Buchanan Public Library, 128 E Front St, Buchanan, MI.
Bob Owens is a true champion of the St. Joe River and has actively supported the Friends of the St. Joe River Association (FotSJR) since the organization was founded. Bob has been a lead organizer of one of the largest river clean-up events on the St. Joseph River for 17 years. He promotes the FotSJR at the event by displaying a large banner and encouraging clean-up participants to join as members.
Bob has paddled the entire length of the St. Joe River (210 miles) several times. He shares stories about the people he met along the way and it is obvious they learned as much from him as he did from them. Although his navigation of the entire main branch of the river is impressive, his ultimate goal is even more impressive. He is determined to paddle every mile of every navigable tributary of the St. Joe River. For Bob, a navigable stream simply means there is enough water to float a canoe, never mind the brush and tree fall that blocks passage around every bend.
At almost 80 years old, Bob is still working on his goal. His knowledge of the entire St. Joseph River Watershed is amazing and he enjoys sharing it with others. He was there beside Al and Margaret in the beginning and he is still there today cleaning up the river and helping others appreciate the truly wonderful water resources in the St. Joseph River Watershed.
Dona Hunter (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)
Bob Owens (Left) with Matt Meersman (Right)