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Ranger Steve receives distinguished award

By Judy Reed

The National Association of Interpretation awarded naturalist Steven Joel Mueller, of Cedar Springs, (better known as Ranger Steve to readers), the 2010 Distinguished Professional Interpreter award, at the Region Four conference in Midland, Michigan on March 30.

It is the highest award they bestow.

“I felt like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer when they attended their own funeral,” commented Mueller. “The wonderful commentary by my colleagues was truly heart-warming and energizing. When one’s peers recognize another it carries great meaning because we have all walked similar paths and know the exhilaration of successes and sorrow of failures along the way.”

Ranger Steve has always been in love with nature. He got started with butterflies at age 8. “I was interested in frogs, scouting, camping, canoeing, and exploring. Nobody does that (exploring) anymore,” he told the Post in 2008.

Ranger Steve in 1977

Ranger Steve in 1977

Mueller grew up in Saginaw, and held several different jobs related to the nature field over the years. He was a high school science teacher in Alpena, Michigan, Dry Ridge, Kentucky, and Kenosha, Wisconsin; an urban forester for Dow Chemical in Midland; a state park ranger in Traverse City; a ranger/naturalist at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah; and a teacher at Jordan College in Cedar Springs. Many know him best as the director of Howard Christiansen Nature Center for over 20 years. When that temporarily closed in 2005, Lowell Schools hired him to direct the program at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-Science Environmental Center. He retired from there in 2008 due to bone cancer. Besides those programs, Mueller is or has been President of the Grand Rapids Audubon Club, President for the Michigan Alliance for Environmental and Outdoor Education, West Michigan Butterfly Association, and Grand Rapids Camera Club. He also has won several other awards.

Dianne Valen, Naturalist Services Director for the Geauga Park District in Chardon, Ohio, noted that Mueller inspired her through his leadership and teaching. “Ranger Steve is also well-known to Auduboners, having led trips, conducted bird counts and served as a longtime coordinator of Michigan Audubon Camp-outs. I have especially fond memories of those camp-outs at Cedar Campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. It was there that Ranger Steve first introduced me to kayaking, a number of unusual butterflies/moths and the unique Alvar environment. In so doing, he ignited a spark that eventually resulted in him recruiting me to lead groups to experience this unusual habitat at subsequent Campouts,” she wrote in a support letter for his nomination of the Interpreter award.

Dorothy McLeer, Program Coordinator/Interpretive Naturalist for the University of Michigan-Dearborn Environmental Interpretive Center, also recalls learning from Ranger Steve. “I had the good fortune of sharing interpretive duties with Steve on a Michigan Audubon Society (MAS) weekend expedition along the beautiful northern shores of Lake Huron on the east coast of the UP,” she wrote in her support letter. “MAS had contracted Steve’s talents for several years on these events, and for good reason, as I discovered. My eyes were opened to aspects of northern forest and Great Lakes ecology I had never known. Steve’s content was backed up by his own research as well as recent natural history and ecological publications, providing the most current and up-to-date factual information for his audience. That does not happen by accident—that is professional pride and devotion to one’s craft. I learned more about Great Lakes ecology that weekend, as well as what it takes to deliver the goods as a professional interpreter. I never forgot how Steve held our attention and provoked curiosity while imparting interesting facts while weaving them into a conceptual framework to understand the bigger picture. It is a model to which I aspire as a field instructor for the University of Michigan-Dearborn or when conducting field trips for the thousands of schoolchildren we greet each year at the University’s Environmental Interpretive Center.”

Many Post readers are familiar with Ranger Steve through his column Nature Niche, or through his work at the Howard Christensen Nature Center. Either way, his love for nature shines through. And it won’t dull anytime soon.

“In my acceptance I encouraged others to continue the charge as long as they breathe because it is a way of life more than a profession,” he explained. “Some people go to work for a profession but I have gone to work because it is a passion.”

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2 Responses to “Ranger Steve receives distinguished award”

  1. Larry Johnson says:

    Congratulations Steve on your tremendous accomplishment. Ray Novotny forwarded the news to me. I’m to have met you and worked with you during your brief stay in Gainesville, FL. I have also moved away from G-ville and I am now working as a park ranger at Gorges State Park. I hope that you are feeling better and will one day travel to NC. I would love to see you and hear about all of your adventures. Take care.

  2. Ross Zito says:

    It is a tribute to you Steve, that almost 3 decades after the fact, the crew from Gainesville still feels your influence. Pleasure working with you and knowing you.




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