Where the wild things are at CalvinJune 20, 2008
Jeanette Henderson, new Ecosystem Preserve programming manager, usually likes to stay inside her office at the Bunker Interpretive Center when it rains, but this turtle brought her outside.
The windows of Jeanette Henderson’s new office look over the South Pond in the Calvin Ecosystem Preserve, but she hasn’t spotted the Green-backed Herons out there. The herons tend to be elusive, yet a colleague has seen them around Buttonbush Pond, a little north in the preserve, and Henderson has been snooping around there for a sight of them. Still, on a wet day, she doesn’t mind staying indoors at the Vincent and Helen Bunker Interpretive Center, her headquarters.
"I love the sound of the rain, and I love the idea that I don’t have to water my yard, ’cause it was turning pretty brown” said Henderson, the programming manager for the Ecosystem Preserve.
Henderson, a 2002 Calvin grad, has been shepherding the center, its interns and researchers, and the many groups of schoolchildren and others who avail themselves of the preserve, since November, 2007. Even in a mere six months on the job, she’s learned that it can involve anything from scheduling repairs to teaching a group of seventh-graders to skim a pond for Damselfly larvae.
"I am enjoying it. It’s been all-encompassing job,” Henderson said. “I direct and coordinate the educational programs, but I’m also in charge of the on-site maintenance.” A self-described hands-on person, Henderson works alongside program leaders to keep classes such as "Habitats and Communities” and camps such as "Aquatic Adventures” humming along.
Born in Fort Campbell, Kentucky— “Pretty much both sides of my family have been here since the founding of this country”—Henderson grew up in Oscoda, Mich., a township poised on the eastern edge of the mitten, about two hours north of Saginaw on Lake Huron. “I grew up in an area surrounded by lots of water and lots of Jack Pine forest,” she said.
She spent summers playing around on Van Etten Creek (“a good Dutch creek name”). “My parents really encouraged us to go outside, play, get dirty. They instilled in us early on to be safe, but also to enjoy water. Ours was the swimming hole where neighborhood kids would come down to take a dip on a summer day,” Henderson recalled.
She loves being outdoors. “There’s amazing beauty about the quietness, walking outside, or the noisiness, depending on if the birds are singing.”
Herself possessed of a good non-Dutch name—of English, Scottish and Irish extraction and a Baptist/ Assemblies of God religious heritage—Henderson had never even heard of “Christian Reformed” when she went college shopping and found Calvin.
"I do remember the first time I came to Calvin and saw the Calvin sign on the East Beltline,” she said.
On a subsequent visit, a special dinner for honors students later that same year, Henderson met geology, geography and environmental science (GEO) professor, Ralph Stearley, who gave Henderson and her mother a tour of his lab. “He showed us his passion for his profession. That really sealed the deal…,” she said. “My mom and I were impressed that a professor would take time out of his day—it was past nine o’clock at night—that a professor would actually sit down and share with us.”
While studying toward a major in biology and minor in third world development, Henderson took interims in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands and studied sustainability and ecotourism in Belize and Costa Rica.
She also helped to establish a big part of the enterprise that she oversees today, working in 2000 with then-preserve manager Cheryl Hoogewind to pioneer the summer camps at the Ecosystem Preserve. "The idea was that we have a beautiful preserve here and to share God’s creation with the Calvin community and the greater Grand Rapids community,” she said of the pre-Bunker Center era, when she would sweep the snakes out from behind the refrigerator each morning at the tiny building that served as a base for the camps.
After her Calvin graduation, Henderson headed to a yearlong internship at the University of Georgia Marine Education Center and Aquarium, where she taught invertebrate studies, plankton studies and water chemistry to K-through-college students. “We would take them on boats and go trawling and pull up different marine organisms…,” she reminisced. “We would take them to the local Barrier Islands and talk about island ecology… . We had an amazing summer camp program.”
Back in Michigan, Henderson substitute taught for a while before landing a job at the Michigan Audubon Society, where she worked from the spring of 2004 through the fall of 2007, coordinating educational programs and doing administrative work.
And thence to Calvin. “I was excited about my former job but the opportunity to work with both college programs and elementary students was very enticing,” she said. “All the experiences I had prepared me for this position.”
"Lots of energy, lots of ideas, good planning strength, good interpersonal strengths,” Ecosystem Preserve director Randy Van Dragt described Henderson. “She’s really come on strong.” He was especially appreciative of the new preserve manager’s Audubon credentials. “I think the strong thing that came out of that is experience with education programming,” he said. “That’s a lot of what she’s doing for us, and it’s allowed her to get into the job pretty quickly.”
For now, Henderson admitted, she’s going slowly. “I really haven’t pioneered anything yet,” she said. “I feel you need to really know a place, and Cheryl knew this place. She was here for over 10 years."
She does have a mission though: she wants to get the kids outside. "Positive nature experiences shape how they respond as an adult when they make decisions about their professions, their voting decisions, and whether or not they take their own children outdoors,” she said.
~by Myrna Anderson, communications and marketing