Nature's Supporters

We’re celebrating people just like you who love and care for our planet. Enjoy these Mainers’ inspiring stories.

Whether you are a long-time Nature Conservancy supporter or just made your first gift, you are part of a large community where there is room for everyone to make a difference. Thank you for making our world a better place!

Jane Barker and Babette Gwynn
Jane Barker and Babette Gwynn have loyally supported The Nature Conservancy for almost 35 years.

Jane’s family lived in almost every region of Maine when she was growing up, so she was acquainted early with the state’s many habitats, flora, and fauna. Free time for Jane included hiking the forests or fishing and boating the lakes and streams with her parents and extended family. Her mother was an avid birder before it became fashionable.

Babette’s father, a biologist, encouraged her to explore the woods, fields, and riverbanks of Maryland’s Eastern Shore where they lived. They explored vernal pools, collected the local terrestrial and aquatic turtles in the back yard, and hatched a clutch of black snake eggs in the house. “My mother would have preferred the turtles I was expecting!” says Babette. Both Jane and Babette, first with family and friends and eventually with one another, hiked and camped all over the country, admiring a wide array of habitats and the critters that inhabit them.

“When traveling, one sees not only the great outdoors but threats to it from pollution and unchecked sprawl and resource development,” says Jane. “Given our backgrounds, it was natural to develop concern for the beautiful environments in which the animals we loved to watch lived. As we are both scientists by training, we are aware of how complex, tangled, and interdependent the web of life is, from the molecular to ecosystem level.”

Jane and Babette were both fans of The Nature Conservancy and its work before they met. Jane learned of it from her mother, whose environmentalism crystallized during a continuing education course for teachers that she attended each summer. In the early 1980s, Babette asked a friend with a master’s degree in environmental studies what environmental organization she would support if she could only afford to support one. The friend unhesitatingly suggested The Nature Conservancy. “I was doubly impressed,” remembers Babette, “because the friend was employed by another nationally-known environmental non-profit at the time!”

Throughout their many years as supporters, the couple has watched as the Conservancy has evolved from an organization that identified and purchased environmentally significant tracts of land to one that works collaboratively in myriad ways over entire ecosystems—which has at times awed, concerned, and delighted them.

“The foundation of this is the people of The Nature Conservancy,” says Jane. “Whether visiting preserves around the country, staying at Conservancy facilities, or interacting with our own Maine chapter staff, we are invariably impressed by their capability, enthusiasm, dedication, good humor, and genuineness. In our opinion, it would be tough to find better, more qualified people doing more important work. And, as scientists, we have decades of data on which to base this conclusion!”

But most of all, Jane and Babette appreciate the balanced approach that brings people together. “The sincere desire The Nature Conservancy has to make the natural environment work for everyone, from those who would prefer it untouched to those who depend on it for their livelihoods, provides a common ground that environmental discussions often lack,” says Babette. “Our wish to play a small part in this grand enterprise led Jane to donate her family camp on Lake Sebago to the Conservancy. The subsequent sale of the camp realized for the Maine chapter a profit that we are confident will be put to good use. We encourage others to donate, at whatever level, to a chapter or project of The Nature Conservancy that captures their imagination or aids a piece of the planet that is dear to their hearts.”

Donors who give consistently over many years are The Nature Conservancy’s most faithful supporters, and we are so grateful for their ongoing commitment to protecting our beautiful planet. These families and individuals have shown continued commitment to the mission of the Conservancy and are now a valued part of our Loyal Donor community.


Kerem Durdag, Mary Starr and Family
Kerem and Mary and their children are proud Conservation Partners—leaders in conservation action who support The Nature Conservancy with significant gifts.

Kerem grew up in Karachi, Pakistan, and saw firsthand the nexus of mass urbanization and the stretching of every imaginable resource to make a home for 20 million people. He believes that upbringing must have planted a seed in him from which his future passion for conservation grew.

While attending St. John’s College in Minnesota, the Benedictine way of life introduced him to the importance of stewarding the earth. “When you are with monks in the middle of the woods, you get a sense of what really matters in life,” he says. “We exist because of the environment, and it exists as meaning to us. The environment is egalitarian. Everyone is the same on this planet. Human history from time immemorial has been aided and abetted by this planet. It’s our moral and ethical imperative that the planet stays alive. That is stewardship.”

Later, while attending the University of New Hampshire for graduate school, his worldview was fully transformed on a hike in the White Mountains. He met his wife at school and they got engaged on the ridge between Mt. Percival and Mt. Morgan. Later, they got married in Acadia National Park. “Now,” he says, “hiking and being outdoors has become a way of life for my family and me. I believe there is an education to be garnered from conserving and being outdoors, either political activism, spiritual awakening, understanding the science, a deep sense of rootedness, or beauty.”

From the beginning, Kerem and Mary took their kids on hikes to show them the natural world. “We sort of kidded about the fact that they would look at the scene around them and absorb it in. Our dream was that at least one of our kids would grow up and do something for the planet, and now our son is looking at a career in conservation partly because of what we’ve experienced as a family. If there’s one thing we’ve done well with our lives, to gift our children with something that will live beyond us, that is it.”

Kerem and Mary like that The Nature Conservancy is a global organization with local roots, making it possible for individuals to make a meaningful contribution. “For example,” says Kerem, “our personal goal is to amplify the issue of climate change. My dream is to help the Conservancy carry the flag of climate change globally by engaging millennials as the next generation of supporters.”

Whether its introducing their children to the natural world or inviting young adults to participate in conservation, Kerem is optimistic about our planet’s future. “There is an incredible amount of beauty, love and grace in the outdoors,” he says. “It’s important that we hang on to the gifts that the outdoors offers us and use it as a means for local, national, and international engagement and to connect with one another. The outdoors has the ability to connect human beings to each other and toward a shared goal. If we can all work together, then that’s victory.”

Conservation Partners, those who support The Nature Conservancy with an annual gift of $1,000 or more, are among nature’s most ardent and informed supporters. These generous Conservancy members serve as leaders in preserving nature’s awe-inspiring wonder today and for generations to come. We appreciate all of our Conservation Partners who invest in the health of our natural world — from your own backyard and across Maine to the far reaches of the globe. Thank you!

Cindy Dechenes SPLASH

Cindy Dechenes, Raj Woolever and family
Cindy, Raj and their family are generous Conservation Champions—their monthly gifts sustain a healthy planet today and for generations to come.

Growing up near Baxter State Park and Mt. Katahdin set Cindy Dechenes on her journey to support conservation efforts. Her family still owns a camp on Millinocket Lake, and they strongly support conservation in the region.

Her son, Kadin, agrees that growing up around beautiful outdoor places had an impact on him, too. “When I got older, I realized these places were threatened by the way humans were changing the world,” says Kadin.

The family befriended David Banks (Africa Program Director for the Conservancy) and his family who encouraged them to travel to Africa. “We experienced a life-changing safari in Tanzania and observed first-hand the struggles to preserve wild spaces in Africa,” says Cindy. “Seeing wildebeest and zebra herds stretching to the horizon was an unforgettable experience, and was partly responsible for inspiring Kadin to pursue environmental/conservation studies in college.”

The experience led Kadin to do field studies in the budding Patagonia National Park last fall, and has inspired the whole family to keep learning about protecting these spaces. “I think natural and wild places are important in the world,” says Kadin. “They preserve plant and animal life that might not be directly beneficial to humans, but have inherent value despite that, and deserve protection so that they might continue to exist.”

One message that Cindy and Raj have passed down to their kids is the appreciation of the imperative to balance development and economic growth with preservation and protection of wild species and places. “As humans, we are moving very quickly towards a planet that is going to be very different than the one we have known and the one we know today,” says Kadin. “Conservation is just one way we can preserve the places we care about, and maintain natural beauty and healthy ecosystems.”

Cindy agrees, “We're a small family but joining with organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, we believe we make a difference.”

Conservation Champions, those who support The Nature Conservancy through a monthly gift plan, are a special group of passionate and forward-thinking supporters. Their gifts help provide the sustained resources needed to accelerate the pace and scale of the Conservancy’s work to protect the lands and waters that sustain all life on earth. We are honored to have many Conservation Champions in Maine, and today we celebrate you and the great work you make possible!

Wendy and Mary

Mary Neal and Wendy Wolf
Mary and Wendy are generous Legacy Club members—their gift will have an impact beyond their lifetimes.

When they were looking for a place to retire in the early 1990s, the environment played a big role in where Mary and Wendy wanted to live. They looked for a place with clean water and limited development—a place that offered them the ability to enjoy the woods and waters of the state. In the end, they were drawn by Maine people’s commitment to protecting their environment and keeping it healthy.

For Mary, the love of nature came early. Her family camped throughout the West when she was a child, even traveling the AlCan highway to Alaska. She grew a love for wilderness and the feeling that she was, in her words, “as much a participant as the squirrel. I’m an equal with everything else.”

Wendy had more of an urban upbringing, but visited Yosemite National Park and other natural places while in California for medical training.

“I think it’s the incredible holiness and beauty of nature that really captured my attention and made me understand these are unique places that have relationships with human beings,” says Wendy. “And we have to be incredibly careful in how we nurture and preserve these sacred spaces. That interaction spreads to our own spaces – our communities – it’s the interdependent web we all exist in.”

As a teenager, their daughter participated in an Earth Day beach cleanup in Galveston, Texas and was so upset by all the trash they found there. It was their daughter’s experience that energized Mary and Wendy to get involved in conservation and recycling. As they learned more, they became more engaged in conservation. It was at this time that they began supporting The Nature Conservancy.

“I’ve had the incredible fortune to travel all across the country and I’ve seen what people do to the surface of our planet,” says Mary. “We change the habitat. You have to get away from human influence to see the land as it really is supposed to be. It supports us.”

“If we didn’t have organizations conserving these places that inspire us and fill us with hope and awe, they could all disappear,” Mary continues. “They don’t protect themselves.”

Mary and Wendy appreciate The Nature Conservancy’s strategic approach—balancing the needs of nature with the needs of people to develop win-win solutions. And because the Conservancy is a global organization, they have the opportunity to have an impact at local, regional and global scales.

“As single individuals we would feel overwhelmed about having an impact, but with other people in partnership with the Conservancy I feel empowered and like I made a difference,” says Mary. “The community of The Nature Conservancy is so important. When more people see that we can make a difference when we work together, it empowers us as supporters.”

“Conservation is everybody’s responsibility,” Wendy adds. “Everything you do every day of your life makes a difference, whether you walk or drive a car, keep your car another year or get a more efficient car. The individual is responsible for small moves and small everyday behaviors, including choosing to support conservation.”

Wendy sums up their Legacy Club membership: “As far as we are concerned if you are not thinking about a right relationship with the land, you’re really not thinking about an appropriate future for yourself and your children.”

The Legacy Club is a group of Nature Conservancy supporters who have made a lasting commitment to conservation by making a life-income gift with the Conservancy or by naming the Conservancy as a beneficiary in their estate plans. The Legacy Club is a way for us to recognize this profound contribution to The Nature Conservancy's future. We thank Mary and Wendy and all of our Legacy Club members around the world for their dedication to preserving the diversity of life and for their foresight in providing for its future.


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