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Kansas director of The Nature Conservancy.
Rob Manes Kansas director of The Nature Conservancy. © Nick Krug

Our People

Rob Manes

State Director, Kansas

Topeka, KS

  • Area of Expertise

    Sustainable Grazing

Biography

Rob has been with The Nature Conservancy since 2005 and was named State Director for Kansas in 2011. He is responsible for all aspects of TNC's work in Kansas, including conservation, administration, and fundraising. 

Rob has spent more than 35 years in the conservation field, including 20 with the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks. He represents TNC on several national and federal boards including the U.S. Roundtable for Sustainable Beef. Rob holds a master’s degree in environmental science from Friends University.

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November 11, 2021

In Memory of Kenny Baum

Nearly everyone has at least one powerful mentor in their life: an advocate, encourager, sometimes demanding drill sergeant, and a friend. One such person who will always loom large in my life was G. Kenneth "Kenny" Baum, who passed away at age 91 on November 9.

I first met Kenny more than 15 years ago, when I came to work for The Nature Conservancy in Kansas. He was small in stature but giant in character with ready humor, keen wit, overt orneriness, unswerving determination, deep kindness, and a refreshingly frank manner of communicating. It was his determination and frankness that I came to seek most in my first role as director of conservation.

G. Kenneth Baum, then Kansas board chair, at the 2006 press conference announcing  The Nature Conservancy's plan to purchase the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve.
Saving the Tallgrass Prairie G. Kenneth Baum, then Kansas board chair, at the 2006 press conference announcing The Nature Conservancy's plan to purchase the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve. © Shelby Stacy/TNC

Kenny was a founding trustee who helped establish TNC's presence in the state 32 years ago. Along with a few other notable business and community leaders, he made financial, intellectual, and deep life commitments to conserving Kansas' most important natural features. Places like Cheyenne Bottoms PreserveSmoky Valley Ranch, the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Jamestown wetlands, and thousands of acres in the Flint Hills and Red Hills bear witness to Kenny's influence and life.

John Strickler, Wayne Lebsack and Kenny Baum are founding members of the Kansas board of trustees. Pictured here in 1999.
Founding Kansas Trustees John Strickler, Wayne Lebsack and Kenny Baum are founding members of the Kansas board of trustees. Pictured here in 1999. © The Nature Conservancy

This account would be conspicuously incomplete without a note about Kenny's role in the establishment of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. TNC had eyed this strikingly rugged western Kansas landscape for decades, and we'd regularly inquired about the owners' interest in selling. As is often the case with land conservation transactions, we made no progress for years, and then came an unexpected phone call. The owners contacted me to express their desire to sell Little Jerusalem to TNC. But money was tight then (as it is now and always will be for non-profit conservation organizations.) Confiding in my mentor, Kenny, I fretted over the idea of borrowing money to buy the 332-acre property. Growing impatient with my hesitance, he almost shouted into the phone, "Just go buy it! You'll have the money soon enough." 

So, I followed his advice (as I nearly always did.) Thanks to Kenny's leadership, his and wife Ann's generosity, and fundraising talent, TNC purchased the property a few months later, without debt. It now stands as one of Kansas' most popular state parks, owned by TNC with visitor access managed by the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.

20 Years Conserving Kansas
20 Years Conserving Kansas Maggie & Bill Haw and Ann & Kenny Baum celebrate more than 20 years of conservation in Kansas when original TNC state director Alan Pollom retired in 2011. © Ruth Sawin/TNC
Protecting the Blue River
Protecting the Blue River Trustee Kenny Baumwith TNC staff Kelly Blandford and Heidi Mehl while touring a conservation easement that protects the headwaters of the Blue River in Kansas City. © TNC
20 Years Conserving Kansas Maggie & Bill Haw and Ann & Kenny Baum celebrate more than 20 years of conservation in Kansas when original TNC state director Alan Pollom retired in 2011. © Ruth Sawin/TNC
Protecting the Blue River Trustee Kenny Baumwith TNC staff Kelly Blandford and Heidi Mehl while touring a conservation easement that protects the headwaters of the Blue River in Kansas City. © TNC

This is just one of many examples of Kenny Baum's passionate leadership when it comes to conserving the lands and waters of Kansas. He was wholly dedicated to the idea that Kansas's natural beauty is not only worth saving but also worth sharing with people. The work he envisioned is expensive, sometimes excruciatingly so, and Kenny never shied away from putting his own money into our work. Nor was he timid about insisting that others did as well.

Kenny so strongly believed in conservation that he consistently admonished and coached everyone—TNC donors, trustees, and staff—to go bigger, further, faster. He didn't just help TNC develop conservation projects; he made sure to secure funding to implement them. The mentoring, encouraging, and sometimes outright pushing I received from Kenny opened my eyes to the many needs and opportunities that would eventually manifest into some of our most important conservation successes. The lessons of dogged determination, generosity, and passionate commitment I learned from him will guide me and TNC for a long, long time to come.

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