Legacy: Leaders from within

  • Posted: Thursday, Apr. 13th, 2023

More than 55 years ago, Olivia Irvine Dodge had the vision to preserve natural space amid a rapidly expanding urban area. Her legacy lives on through long-time staff whose dedication keeps Dodge a thriving oasis for outdoor learning.

If you’ve visited Dodge, chances are your experience was made exceptional by an enthusiastic teacher, naturalist, or leader. These 20+ year Dodge staff members are creating lasting legacies of their own. Here are some of their stories.

Julie Allen

Schedule and Events Coordinator • 23 years
Starting position: Restoration Specialist

Julie came to Dodge with years of teaching experience and a degree focused on forestry—land restoration was a natural fit. In her first year, she planted the willow tree that graces the banks of the Farm Pond. It still stands tall, a beloved playscape for countless children and habitat for wildlife.

Since 2000, Julie has worn many hats from planting acres of native prairie to cultivating hundreds of volunteers. She envisions her legacy as a Jill of All Trades: “I hope I’m remembered for how I contributed to all aspects of Dodge,” Julie says.

Pete Cleary

Environmental Education Director • 30 years
Starting position: Naturalist Intern

Pete taught high school physics in Maine and decided to apply for an internship at Dodge that better fit his degree and interests—but didn’t originally make the cut. After a candidate backed out, he began his journey at Dodge in 1993. Pete now leads Dodge's team of talented naturalists.

“Legacy is hard to get your head around because it’s the future that you’re not directly in,” says Pete. “Through environmental education I’ve been planting seeds, both metaphorically as well as in the prairie, that will prosper after my time.”

Mick Garrett

Naturalist And Outreach Specialist • 20 years
Starting position: Naturalist Intern

Mick didn’t know about Dodge until a friend from Richardson Nature Center suggested he apply for an internship opening. He began at Dodge in 1997, switching from intern to seasonal positions, then landed as a full-time naturalist in 2010. The reason he always returned? “The amazing and creative staff!”

Mick now leads outreach opportunities, partnering with schools and communities to bring environmental education to them. “I hope my work has left people feeling more connected to the natural world around them,” says Mick, “and skills they learned will stick with them for the rest of their lives.”

Don Oberdorfer

Farm Director • 25 years
Starting position: Seasonal Naturalist

When Don moved back to Minnesota from California, he started at Dodge as a seasonal naturalist. He helped around the farm and was eventually offered an opportunity to step into the Farm Manager position. Over the years, Don grew the seasonal model farm into a lively, year-round program that thousands of students experience every year.

Don’s thoughts on legacy are simple: leave it better than you found it. “Hopefully, I’m setting up the farm for future educators who are excited about the same idea: to take the space we’ve built and do great things with it.”

Jason Sanders

Executive Director • 20 years
Starting position: Volunteer And Special Events Director

In 2003 Jason joined the team, leading volunteers and community events. His passion for Dodge grew when his children attended the Preschool and summer camps: “Seeing my boys develop friendships, connections to nature, and pure enjoyment running through the woods was what I wanted for all,” shares Jason.

Jason strives to foster a safe, engaging environment at Dodge for everyone to enjoy—the same space his sons thrived in growing up. “I’m hoping I assisted in making sure Dodge is here for 50 more years—teaching, nurturing relationships, and continuing to inspire curiosity and wonder.”

Joey Schoen

Assistant Preschool Director • 20 years
Starting position: Part-Time Lead Teacher

Joey arrived at Dodge as she was finishing her Master of Education program at the University of Minnesota. She taught part time, leading children through the seasons and watching them grow alongside the wildlands around them. “To see them so comfortable in the natural world and so confident in their abilities was always moving,” Joey shares.

As the Preschool grows, Joey works to provide that same enriching experience. “I hope the children (and families) we serve develop a lifelong connection to nature and begin to see how they are a part of the wider world.”

Pam Welisevich

Naturalist And Animal Care Coordinator • 24 years
Starting position: Naturalist

Pam initially applied for a position at a local zoo but lacked teaching experience. They advised her to go work at a nature center—she came to Dodge, and discovered she loved the variety creative freedom. Pam developed her own programs, such as Woolly Bears and Women in the Woods, that welcomed new people into nature.

“Over the years, people have asked me how I became interested in the natural world,” says Pam. “I hope when my students are asked that question in the future, their reply will be visiting Dodge Nature Center!”

This article was originally published in the Nourish Your Need for Nature Newsletter, Spring/Summer 2023.

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