A Night of Celebration – Honoring Our 2017 National Wildlife Refuge Awardees

Last night, the National Wildlife Refuge Association hosted an incredible Gala in Washington D.C. to highlight and honor extraordinary individuals who have dedicated their lives to conserving our nation’s National Wildlife Refuge System.

“The ceremony was a huge success and it was a privilege to be surrounded by our friends and partners to celebrate dedicated individuals who have worked tirelessly to support the National Wildlife Refuge System,” said Acting President of the Refuge Association, Geoffrey Haskett.

During challenging times, events like this revitalize our passion and commitment not only to our conservation mission, but also to our relationships with our dearest friends and colleagues. Distinguished guests at the Gala included Acting Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Jim Kurth; Chief of the National Wildlife Refuge System, Cynthia Martinez; Congresswoman Barbara Lee (CA); conservation partners including the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Marstel Day Environmental Consulting; Ducks Unlimited, the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership; DNA, Discover Nature Apps; Friends Group members, and more. Congressman Ron Kind (WI) and Senator Moore-Capito (WV) provided video remarks; Senator Durbin (IL) offered a congratulatory poem; and Senators Rubio (FL), Nelson (FL), Manchin (WV) and Johnson (WI) also provided letters of commendation honoring their constituents for their achievements during the ceremony.

Left to right: Rebecca Young, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth, Scott Kahan, Richard Esker.
Left to right: Rebecca Young, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth, Scott Kahan, Richard Esker.

Richard Esker, the recipient of the Volunteer of the Year, has logged more than 12,000 hours at the refuge since his retirement as an engineer. Mr. Esker, accompanied by his wife, Jeanette, spoke about how much his time volunteering at the refuge has meant to him—he has been inspired by the mission and by value he receives from the refuge and community and what he is able to give back. By donating his skills as an engineer, he has given the refuge staff a talent they would not otherwise have had access to. Rebecca Young, Refuge Manager at Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Scott Kahan, Region 5 Refuge Chief, presented Mr. Esker with his award. Senator Capito recorded a video congratulating Mr. Esker on the award and Senator Manchin sent a congratulatory letter.

Left to right: Geoff Haskett, Rebecca Rubin, Judy Bautch, Jim Kurth, Tom Melius, Cynthia Martinez.

We were thrilled to present the Molly Krival Friends Group of the Year Award to the Friends group at Trempealeau National Wildlife Refuge. The Friends were represented last night by two volunteers: Judy Bautch and Kathleen Kulig. Dr. Bautch accepted the award and spoke about the history of the Friends group: they were only created 10 years ago, but have 120 members and 9 board members. Most notably, the Friends secured three grants to deliver an outdoor environmental education classroom, funding the project from construction to teacher training. Tom Melius, Midwest Regional Director of the Service, presented Dr. Bautch and Mrs. Kulig with the award. Congressman Ron Kind, co-chair of the Wildlife Refuge Caucus, recorded a video congratulating the Friends group on their fantastic work, and Senator Johnson sent a certificate for the Friends.

Left to right: Kevin Godsea, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth, Cynthia Martinez, David Viker, Geoff Haskett.
Left to right: Kevin Godsea, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth, Cynthia Martinez, David Viker, Geoffrey Haskett.

The Paul Kroegel Refuge Manager of the Year Award was presented to Kevin Godsea, the refuge manager at Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge. Accompanied by his wife, Annie, Mr. Godsea spoke eloquently about the need for collaborative efforts at wildlife refuges: without the help of staff such as maintenance workers, biologists, and educators and the efforts of volunteers and Friends groups, refuges would not be what they are today. Mr. Godsea’s work to restore the population of Florida panthers has included community outreach that has drawn a large constituency of neighbors invested in the recovery of this endangered species. David Viker, Southeast Regional Director of the Service, helped present the award to Mr. Godsea, and he was presented with letters from Florida Senators, Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson.

Left to right: Geoffrey Haskett, Dale Pittman, Tom Melius, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth.
Left to right: Geoffrey Haskett, Dale Pittman, Tom Melius, Rebecca Rubin, Jim Kurth.

Dale Pittman was awarded the Employee of the Year Award for his work at the Illinois River National Wildlife Refuge. A heavy equipment operator, Mr. Pittman spoke about the need for adequate training for new equipment operators. Many of the older operators grew up on farms working tractors from the time they could walk, and Mr. Pittman has used their experience to teach younger operators the art of their trade. Accompanied by his wife, Linda, Mr. Pittman was presented his award by Tom Melius, and met with Senator Dick Durbin earlier in the day, where he was presented with a letter of congratulations.

Left to right: Jim Kurth, Amanda Burke, Cynthia Martinez.
Left to right: Jim Kurth, Amanda Burke, Cynthia Martinez.

We also recognized the contribution and achievements of Team Rubicon, an organization that partners with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CASE Construction Equipment to train veterans and civilians on heavy equipment for use on refuges and in disaster relief. To date, 158 Team Rubicon volunteers have been trained on refuges in equipment use and an additional 44 have been trained as equipment instructors. 19 training events have been held on wildlife refuges, and thanks to this partnership, Team Rubicon has deployed volunteers and equipment to eight disaster response operations.

On behalf of the Refuge Association, we sincerely want to say thank you so much to everyone who attended as we continue to work together to protect our National Wildlife Refuge System.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2017/05/a-night-of-celebration-honoring-our-2017-national-wildlife-refuge-awardees/

1 comment

  1. Alice Clanin says:

    Congratulations to Dale Pittman selected as Employee of the Year. A man of the highest integrity, Dale carries that quality into every aspect of his life. We should all be so fortunate to call him Friend.

    Alice Clanin, Administrative Technician (Ret.)
    Illinois NWFR

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