I first met Gene Proch in 1995. We were both volunteering on an effort to bring an International Countryside Stewardship Exchange team to the Spring Creek Watershed to gather new ideas and stimulate local momentum for watershed-based planning for our community's treasured natural resource. Gene was an environmental manager for the local Corning-Asahi manufacturing plant, and I was fresh out of college in my first job as a planner for the Centre Region Planning Agency.
He would go on to serve on the Board of Directors of ClearWater Conservancy, and I would become ClearWater's Executive Director. But about this time, Gene took an early retirement as Corning closed their State College facility, and with his wife Natalie got a gig working at Mount Nittany Vineyard & Winery. I didn't know this at the time--and maybe they didn't either--but their experience at Mount Nittany would eventually lead to a brand new family winery established by "Jinx", as he was now known, Natalie, and their son Jeffrey. In 2016 the University Wine Company was born.
Since their early days at the Mount Nittany winery, the Prochs hoped to talk the owners into doing a special label project to benefit ClearWater Conservancy, but nothing ever came of the idea.
Now that they had their own winery, it really was no surprise to me when Jinx approached me at ClearWater's annual meeting last November with the resurrected idea for a special label project. The surprise--and delight--came when he asked me if I would be interested in creating the image to grace the inaugural label of their Impact Artist Series to give back to their local community.
With the enthusiastic support of ClearWater's new Executive Director and the Board of Directors, we collaborated to support the conservancy's newly launched Slab Cabin Run conservation initiative.
I agreed to create a pastel that captured the spirit and energy of Slab Cabin Run, an important tributary to Spring Creek, and the Proch family offered to donate $3 from the sale of each bottle of their Slab Cabin Run Red and Slab Cabin Run White wines to this effort to protect our region's drinking water at its source, restore the health of a degraded section of Slab Cabin Run, and preserve the appealing agricultural character of this part of the watershed just beyond the southern edge of growth of the State College community.
As it turns out, one of my favorite places in the Spring Creek Watershed can be found on the boardwalk of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center. From the Thompson Run bridge, you can see where Slab Cabin Run joins with Thompson Run and the waters from Bathgate Springs, just upstream of their junction with the main stem of Spring Creek. "Confluence" is the title of the pastel painting that I created to capture the beauty of the stream, the fragility of the water resource, and yet also the resilience of the ecosystem from the stream's emerging headwaters on Tussey Mountain near Pine Grove Mills, through farm fields and urban development, to its confluence with other Spring Creek tributaries in the wetland jewel of our watershed community, Millbrook Marsh.
University Wine Company's Slab Cabin Run Red and Slab Cabin Run White wines officially debuted at ClearWater's Art & Chocolate Winter Gala on February 10, 2017. My original pastel, beautifully matted and framed by the State College Framing Company & Gallery, was also the star of the event's live auction. I am honored to report that my pastel package raised more than $1,200 for the Slab Cabin Run initiative! Thank you to each of the bidders but especially to wine maker, Jeffrey Proch who apparently wasn't leaving without the original in his hands.
As is true with all fundraising, every little bit helps. But the work is far from done. ClearWater still needs to raise about half of the $2.75 million it will take to conserve 300 acres of the Meyer and Everhart farms in the Slab Cabin Run watershed. The project will result in the Meyer Dairy Partnership owning both farms and ClearWater Conservancy holding conservation easements on both farms permanently.
Protecting our most valuable resource, our water supply, is the smart thing to do not only for us, but for future generations. Please join ClearWater Conservancy in this effort by making your tax-deductible donation today. Thank you!
Hello friends. What follows are my remarks at the celebration of life of a dear friend and generous benefactor of natural resource conservation in central Pennsylvania. Donald W. Hamer passed away on July 12, 2016.
I am Jennifer Shuey, a former Executive Director of ClearWater Conservancy, a local conservation organization that was especially close to Don’s heart. I have been invited by the family to say a few words today on behalf of the many charitable causes that Don chose to support, which is a true honor and also huge responsibility.
As we all know, Don was very generous to the causes that mattered to him, both here in central Pennsylvania and beyond.
For me, Don was not only a colleague at ClearWater Conservancy and a philanthropic role model in the community, but also a dear friend. I will miss him and his personal encouragement of me. But I brighten when I think of all of the signs of his generosity around town.
In fact, right now, you can look out this window, and up and down Tussey Ridge and this stretch of the Nittany Valley, and see probably half a dozen projects that he took a leadership role in funding…
But it’s not just the projects that bear Don’s mark. Decades ago, in the 80s and 90s, it was Don’s passion, his leadership, and his investment that focused ClearWater’s attention on first the Spring Creek Corridor and then the Spring Creek Watershed through two studies that became the foundation of the community’s work to teach the importance, to protect, and ultimately to connect people with that natural resource that binds us together and defines this special place in all our lives.
There are two places in particular that I will always remember as a tribute to Don’s foresight and tenacity over the years. Both Millbrook Marsh and the Spring Creek Canyon were documented in that early Spring Creek Corridor Study as two of our top five ecological jewels deserving of community attention and protection. Each would require many years, many conversations, lots of partnerships, the leveraging of many grants and other funding sources, and personal relationships that continue to live on. But both are amazing community resources today because of Don’s care.
Millbrook Marsh is my personal favorite, always closest to my heart. When I arrived at ClearWater near the end of 2000, the Millbrook Marsh conservation easement was in its final draft stages. The 50 acre wetland that had been owned by the Clover Highlands Development Group had been donated to Penn State University. Penn State was leasing that land and the adjacent 12-acre Farm 12 to the Centre Region Recreation Authority for $1 a year. And as the story goes, Don Hamer was smack dab in the middle of making all of that possible.
He had the connections and reached out to CEOs and the University President, scientists and land trust specialists. And he made them partners. He showed the stakeholders the possibilities, always stressing that conservation and business can not only co-exist, but thrive together.
The dream of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Center was just in its infancy then, but over the years, the Nature Center has grown and evolved.
Now it teaches the County’s elementary students about wetlands and watersheds, gets some kids their first taste of nature in a hand-on way, and makes an important greenway connection for all of the outdoor enthusiasts who pass through each day.
The Marsh soaks up stormwater and hosts a rare fen ecosystem.
There are pre-school nature play groups and summer camps, weddings and conferences, university research and classes to capture the beauty of nature through art. There is a dedicated community-based advisory committee and elected leaders who believe, a talented professional staff, and tons of volunteers.
There are thousands of kids who still remember back to their field trip to Millbrook Marsh Nature Center and their first whiff of skunk weed, the critters they netted out of Bathgate Run, and the trout they spotted under the Thompson Run bridge.
And there was Don Hamer in the beginning, planting the seeds of possibility, and Don Hamer all along, encouraging the next steps with his strategic investments.
Don is no longer here to see his seeds bear fruit. But Don’s legacy lives on in the countless lives that he continues to touch because of the many places and the people he supported.
So on behalf of ClearWater Conservancy, the Centre County Farmland Trust, Millbrook Marsh Nature Center, the Bellefonte Art Museum, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Mount Nittany Medical Center, Mount Nittany Conservancy, The Nature Conservancy of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, the Hamer Center for Community Design—truly just to name a few—and so many more organizations that care for people and places in central Pennsylvania and beyond, thank you Don.
We all promise to do our best to continue to carry out your legacy and live out your dreams. Rest now, in peace, knowing that you have passed on to the next generations of community leaders the will to continue your work by bringing people together and finding the common good.
On one last personal note, a few days after Don passed away, I painted one of my favorite views of Millbrook Marsh. I consider it a tribute to a man that has meant so much to me and given so much of himself. I hope that it will draw him close, so that he can feel how much he meant to me. Thank you friend.
Memorial contributions may be made to the ClearWater Conservancy, 2555 N. Atherton Street, State College, PA 16803 or to the charity of your choice, in memory of Donald W. Hamer.
I am a loving, joyful, passionate woman | pastel painter | conservationist | fundraiser | Penn State alum | Bellefotian - class of '89 | loving wife of Chris | "mommy" to cats Hammie and Moe | with a wonderfully supportive Mom and Dad | a talented brother and sister-in-law | two amazing nieces | and an ever-expanding circle of beautiful family and friends.