Lisa Van Valkenburgh
Legacies are left in many ways, and no one is more proof of that than Lisa Van Valkenburgh. As an elementary schoolteacher for 25 years, she strove to bring the natural world to life for her students by bringing them on field trips to some of the most magnificent natural places in the United States. Fortunately, living in Northern California, she wasn’t far from the Pacific Coast or towering redwood forests. She remembers watching her fourth graders—many of whom were from low-income families and had never really experienced nature—as they gazed into a tidal pool or stood quietly under the canopy of massive redwood trees for the first time.
“It was absolutely wonderful to see the expressions on their faces and hear them shouting for joy, hailing me to come over and see what they had discovered,” she recalls. “I was so excited for them to discover nature.”
Over the years, Lisa took hundreds of children on field trips to the Pacific Coast and to the redwood forests. The trips were the culmination of a unit studying Native Americans and their deep respect for nature. She believes that for these kids especially, the experiences were unforgettable.
“It was my way of giving them a real experience in the natural world that I hoped they would carry forward with them for life,” she says. “I hope that will be my true legacy.”
Lisa also wanted to contribute in tangible ways to protecting nature, so she regularly gave to the Conservancy and other organizations. She set up a bequest arrangement that will benefit the Conservancy while still providing for her two children and grandchildren. When deciding which organizations to support, she considered the Conservancy’s long history and success, as well as its high rating from Charity Navigator. She values the integrity of the Conservancy, she says, and its science-driven, non-confrontational approach to achieving conservation—not just locally, but around the world.
“I believe it is important to do this,” she says. “I have four grandchildren and I want to preserve the natural world, for them and future generations.”
Lisa credits her mother—who was always pointing out the beauty of nature—for instilling in her an appreciation of the natural world as a child. She did the same for her own children, taking them on family excursions to national parks such as Yosemite and Yellowstone.
Thanks to Lisa’s gift to the Conservancy, the students who got their first taste of wild nature with her will have a chance to bring their own children to experience a beautiful natural place one day. And that is a fitting legacy indeed for a teacher.