Betty Anne and Gary Schenk have spent a good part of their lives in exotic, tropical locales where Betty Anne’s ornithological research has taken them. She specializes in studying tropical seabirds and works in places such as Pedro Bank near Jamaica, and in the central Pacific Ocean on Johnston Atoll and Christmas Island. These seabirds are certainly not found anywhere near Asheville, where the two have made their home since Gary retired in 2006.
“We looked all over for a place to retire,” Betty Anne explains. “Finally we realized we were both born in the east and we loved the woods here. So, this was it.”
The two met in one of the most remote places of the world, on Johnston Atoll in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Betty Anne and her late husband, Ralph Schreiber, were doing research on the seabirds there. Gary was the CO of the Coast Guard Station on the Atoll. As Gary describes it, there wasn’t much to do on a remote island and a lot of time to fill after work hours. He helped to fill it by volunteering with the Schreibers, catching birds for banding and studying, and collecting regurgitation samples for diet studies among other things.
After years of working together on everything from documenting the effects of El Niños on Christmas Island’s marine birds to working on brown pelicans in Flordia to research the reason for their thin-shelled eggs (which they found to be caused by DDT), Ralph Schreiber died of cancer in 1988. But Betty Anne has continued their work on marine birds and has published extensively. Betty Anne and Gary married in 1991 and now make the mountains of western North Carolina their home.
Gary volunteers in the Conservancy’s mountain office in Asheville and they recently gave a gift to the Conservancy’s international work. “We consider The Nature Conservancy one of the best ways we can invest our money because they concentrate on preserving land – which preserves a multitude of species”, explains Betty Anne.
“The Conservancy has a mission and you stick to it,” adds Gary, “so we know our money is well spent.”
The two are opposites. Betty Anne describes herself as a pessimist about the future of the world, while Gary says he’s an optimist. Either way – they say the Conservancy and its work are important to what they believe in – preserving the natural world around us.
“I am a pessimist about the future,” Betty Anne explains. “The world of the future is not going to be as nice as we’ve been able to experience it, but, you can’t stop trying to help and believing that you can make a difference - perhaps help preserve a species. You have to keep at it.”January 25, 2013
Debbie Crane does marketing and communications for the North Carolina Chapter of The Nature Conservancy. Laura Smith adapted this story for the web.