Iowa Women in Natural Resources

Honored by:Anjeanette Perkins
Brick location:F:9  map

I have been working in the natural resource field for about three years and became active in Iowa Women in Natural Resources during that time. I really appreciated being able to plug in to an active functioning group; a group that is long-lived and active relative to some other states' groups. So I began to talk with some of the "Founding Mothers" to learn more about the beginnings. I appreciate the "Mothers' " time and memories but any mistakes in this short narrative are my own. IWINR's records are being archived at the University of Iowa.

In December 1987, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) sponsored a workshop called "Iowa Women in Natural Resources." Iowa's workshop was inspired by a similar Midwestern conference and by work in other states as well as by a need felt by women in a nontraditional field. Iowans at that first Midwestern conference included Connie Cousins-Leatherinan (DNR) Gail George (DNR) Jennifer Lancaster (DNR) Reinee Hildebrant (Cooperative Extension Service) and Kathleen Harris Regnier (Warren County Conservation Board (CCB)). The core planning committee for Iowa's workshop included Kathleen Gail Reinee and Sharon Kaufman (Clinton CCB). Many other people were involved in the workshop.

The keynote speaker for Iowa's workshop was Roxanne Conlin a well-known lawyer and political figure. Among the other activities were working groups to identify issues facing women in this field creation of action strategies and sharing of individual stories. Action strategies were developed for the following categories: affirmative action, communication exchange, dual career, families, child care, wages and pay equity. Nancy Exline (DNR) remembers that when participants were asked to go stand "over there" if they were interested in forming an organization that could address some of those issues; most of the room went. Gail George felt that the title of one of the last sessions summed up the conference: "Empowered for Action." Gail also said it was "the most rewarding and most draining workshop" she ever did. Gail admits that the organizers had to learn political lessons and probably made mistakes along the way. But two major things eventually came out of the workshop and those small group working sessions: an organization for women in natural resources and the DNR's Diversity Task Force.

After the 1987 DNR-sponsored workshop a planning committee formed to organize a non-profit group to address some of the issues raised in the workshop. Committee members were Cele Burnett (Story CCB) Nancy Exline Jennifer Lancaster Kathy Stangl (DNR) and Carol Williams (Story CCB). They met at the State Forest Nursery in Ames once a month for 5 or 6 months to write goals bylaws and articles of incorporation. It took a lot of work to gain the tax-exempt status that IWINR now enjoys. IWINR was formed to "promote communications and expand networks between all people in natural resource fields; to offer encouragement and mentoring to those new to our professions; and to provide career enhancement opportunities" (1988 conference brochure).

The planning committee worked hard putting together a mailing list of potential members. It was important to them to welcome a wide variety of people; people from both public and private agencies from a variety of natural resource fields and from all of positions including support staff. These planners also considered even the "small" details like using recycled paper and reusable nametags. Finding the best name for the group was a big issue and coming up with a logo was an even bigger issue. There was so little money that tying up resources temporarily in t-shirts was a difficult decision. There were many decisions to make and lots of disagreements but most decisions were made by consensus.

The first IWINR board was made up of President Jennifer Lancaster (later to become Lancaster-Woodley) Vice-President, Kathy Stangl; Secretary, Cele Burnett; Treasurer, Nancy Exline; and members Charlene "Chuck" Berry (Army Corps of Engineers 1 year), Marion Patterson (member of Conservation Commission 1 year), and Carol Williams. After two years Barb Gigar (DNR) and Danielle Wirth (DNR) replaced Cele Marion and Chuck. Linda Zalatel (Story CCB) was the first newsletter editor and Bonnie Caflan (educator) continued after Linda. There were also many people who chaired the Communications Exchange Education Elections Issues Legislative Long-Range Planning and Membership committees.

Carol Williams didn't attend the 1987 conference, she became involved afterwards. She recalls thinking "Oh my gosh there are other women in natural resources!" Carol was happy to find women who had the same problems and background that she did. She said she felt comfortable and quickly became friends with these women. This networking helped her "feel not so crazy."

In December of 1988 the newly organized Iowa Women in Natural Resources held its first conference "A New Beginning -Expanding Networks." The brochure summarized the one-day conference: "Speakers will offer insights on the status of women, give suggestions for improving work relationships and building stronger teams, and tell you more about management training." After lunch there was a style show that gave "a new perspective on uniform fashions." It demonstrated the difficulties women faced maintaining creditability, comfort, and even safety when wearing uniforms, waders and other equipment; designed and available only in men's shapes and usually larger sizes. The conference was held only on one day to help make it easier for people to gain support in their workplace for attending.

Other early projects included a video project with Pat Boddy (still in the works) and scholarships for women in the waste water field. IWINR has expanded projects and services to include a job hotline, outdoor recreation workshops, and regional meetings in addition to the annual conference (alternating yearly between one-and two-day formats). Currently we have approximately 100 members who include naturalists, engineers, agricultural specialists, fisheries and wildlife specialists, administrators, support staff (like our current president and other present and past board members), field personnel and students. Cele Burnett, one of the original board members, went on to be elected to the Iowa House of Representatives.

In thinking over the years how IWINR has been developing, Kathy Stangl says it feels like a child growing; organization is growing and expanding, learning and mastering new skills, and we have more money now. Kathy said some people thought IWINR would just be a bunch of women sitting around and complaining. However, it has become a place of camaraderie and support that nutures by challenging.

I wanted to honor the Iowa Women in Natural Resources by donating a brick at the Plaza of Heroines because I have felt that camaraderie and that support in this organization. IWNIR is a setting where I feel comfortable discussing my work experiences, where I feel comfortable becoming active in the organization and building skills important in my job and in life, and where I gain strength. Thank you Founding Mothers, and thank you to the unnamed people that have added to IWINR over the years, I couldn't begin to name all of you.

updated: 1/14