Reflections on a Most Unusual Year


If there’s anything I’ve learned from the most unusual past year is that by working together – with patience, resolve, and resourcefulness – we can accomplish anything. Now, I’ve got a little story to share in relation to that. Indulge me as I recount my uplifting experience joining the staff of Green Foothills on March 17, 2020. Little did I know that on that fateful day, we would all be ordered to “shelter in place” to control the raging Coronavirus pandemic.

Just a week prior, Executive Director Megan Fluke invited me to start work as the newest member of Green Foothills’ staff. What wonderful news and what exciting work ahead, I thought to myself! Starting a new job on St. Patrick’s Day as a Development Director must be a good omen, as somewhere out there in the Green Foothills there is surely a pot of gold awaiting at the end of a rainbow. I was feeling inspired having researched a bit about the organization’s rich history on the internet and having had a chance to meet and chat over the course of three rounds of interviews with some very thoughtful and articulate members of the board and staff.

Advisory Board member Jim Wickett, who attended my second interview, had further heightened the appeal in his response to me as to why he was involved with the organization. “Green Foothills is the sharp end of the stick when it comes to environmental advocacy and saving open space from inappropriate development.” Hmmmm, I thought to myself, this could be very interesting work! It also provided a chance to return to my fundraising roots after working for about a dozen years with independent schools following a seven-year stint in the land trust community in the 90’s, with Napa Land Trust, Sonoma Land Trust, Mendocino Land Trust and Southern Oregon Land Conservancy.

Fortunately, just before that fateful first day of work on March 17th, 2020, Megan called to assure me that we had the tools to work remotely, effectively, and collaboratively. I was relieved to hear that another staff member was already working remotely from Illinois, so having this new staffer working remotely from the Oakland Hills would not be a problem.

So, it came to be that on my first day of work I would not get a chance to meet the team or benefit from a typical orientation process for new staff. Rather I had to call in and take a crash course in the software that facilitates staff collaboration: Asana, the suite of Google programs, Dropbox, Zoom, and others. Megan and my new staff colleagues couldn’t have been nicer or more patient in helping me get up to speed.

A Family Connection

I’d been aware of the work of Green Foothills indirectly, thanks to my father’s friendship with his former English professor, Wallace Stegner. As a result of that friendship our families grew close over the years, and my father actually became a supporter of Green Foothills. I had the good fortune of spending time as a child on Rapley Ranch Road, an old dirt road just west of Skyline, where my Dad lived in a little old shack when he worked at Stanford after getting his PhD in English. This was in the 60’s, some very hairy times, and oftentimes there was a party on the weekend, with some very interesting people, not only the Stegners, but the Aitkins (Don Aitkin succeeded Stegner as Board Chair) and countless storytellers from the Stanford English Department or loquacious Langley Hill residents, like the wise ol’ cowboy with the twinkle in his eye, Jimmy Rapley, the dusty Dempsey boys from the Quarry, sage family rancher and civil rights activist Gerda Isenberg, or the sweet Salvia lady, Betsy Clebsch.

This was how I met Wallace Stegner and his family. In fact, Wallace’s grandson, Pagie, and I celebrated our first birthday together and became lifelong friends, attending each other’s weddings, camping and skiing together, and hitting the trails around Fallen Leaf Lake during summer vacations. I remember listening to Wally’s son Page play music with his band, the Red Mountain Boys, at foggy community fundraisers (maybe for the Committee for Green Foothills?) in Pescadero back in the day. I’ve also stayed in touch with Pagie’s sister Rachel and her family, as well as their step-mother, Lynn Stegner, a dear friend who serves on our Advisory Board.

Coming Full Circle

So, here I am a year into my time as Development Director, still working remotely but glad to be part of the team. It’s been a whirlwind of activity this past year, virtually speaking, not to mention a trial by fire, with all the bad news and historic losses of homes and natural areas from the recent lightning fire complex. And closer to home, my wife, Michelle, and I suffered losses of four dear family members, one from Covid-19. Regardless, thanks to the Green Foothills’ team and our community we’ve had great success, including our 17th annual Nature’s Inspiration, which exceeded our wildest expectations and grossed over $300,000 in proceeds. Despite everything, our fundraising efforts have been on pace. It’s a testimony to an incredible organization and a generous community of loyal supporters and dedicated volunteers, like those who serve on our Development Committee and countless others on the Board, Advisory Board, and in the community who contribute to our work in various ways. My sincere thanks to all for the warm welcome!

That’s my story, now I’m interested in hearing yours. Perhaps we can get together over the phone, zoom, or a social distant picnic and share some stories of past campaigns or our aspirations for the impact Green Foothills dedicates itself to day in and day out. Please join us for any number of interesting virtual events planned by our incredible Community Engagement Manager, Justyne Schnupp. Perhaps we’ll see you in May at our Mary Davey Legacy Society event where you can find out more about how easy it is to leave a legacy in support of Green Foothills, or the Lennie Roberts Advocacy Fund or our Leadership Academy? For more information, or to tell me your story, please contact me at [email protected] I do look forward to meeting you someday. Until then, happy trails!

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