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Big Timbers Fall

By Ranger Steve Mueller

We each have our own mentors, heroes, and life guides.

As a young person, we latch on to experienced seniors in areas of interest or professions. Interestingly, as we age, we learn many younger than us surpass our own skills and knowledge in specialty subjects. Our mentoring leaders become younger people that model how to complete our work more effectively.

Despite the concept of “in with the new and out with the old,” it is important to build on foundations forged by those that came before us. They redirect our lives. Each of us have special mentors. Most often they are people we interact with personally or have secondary connections with through others.

I began college at Ferris State where an emphasis was on pharmacy and bio-chemical education. I wanted to focus more on wildlife management and ecosystem analysis. I decided to transfer to Michigan State, which is well known for its wildlife management programs. It was a much larger institution than I desired with 40,000 students but it focused on skills I hoped to achieve.

I happened to meet Wakelin McNeel, professor at Central Michigan University. Camping with him in the wilds of Michigan and discussing education opportunities offered at MSU and CMU, he redirected my college selection. Some aspects of MSU education would provide better education and narrow my focus, while opportunities at CMU would develop and improve teaching and field biology skills.

Classes at CMU involved more outdoor instruction and experiences than MSU. Upper level science class sizes were smaller with greater individual instructor interactions during the 1970’s.

I chose to be mentored at CMU by a variety of skilled instructors and students. At MSU, I expect I would have forged some great mentors but I particularly liked the smaller education community at CMU. My career opportunities would have been different and great at MSU but CMU guided me to a wonderful career. Fellow CMU field biology graduates acquired careers that suited their interests and life desires. We maintain contact and they continue to mentor me from afar and when we get together.

The take home message is we each need to direct our own lives in a manner the matches our skills and desires. My career path took me to many jobs and places before settling into a career nature niche as director at the Howard Christensen Nature Center, Director at the Wittenbach/Wege Agri-science and Environmental Education Center and now Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary. Major unexpected occurrences interfered along the way but mentors helped me develop despite challenges.

My advisor, Dr. McNeel, was hit and killed on his bicycle when a college student passed another vehicle on a double yellow line. A second car came over the hill, saw the student passing and went onto to the road shoulder to avoid a head-on collision. Wake was biking there and was killed at age 45 in 1970.

Despite his death, he continued to mentor to me through his legacy. I became an unofficial “Big Brother” for his three young children Ted (8), Amie (7), and Ross (4) by spending every other weekend with them while I finished my college years. A good friendship with their mother, Katie, helped me learn more about Wake’s personal life. That mentored my development.

I have great stories to share and continue to maintain a causal relationship with Ted, Amie, and Ross. We will all pass but maybe beforehand we will become a mentor for someone and it might continue when we become a fallen timber. Live a life as an important big tree. Be a person someone chooses as a mentor. You might not know it but you could already be a Big Timber for someone.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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