A new season

Anita at Heritage Valley

By Anita O'Gara, INHF Vice President

When I began a part-time, temporary job here in 1985, I had no idea I would fall in love with this work and these people. I was fascinated, watching a handful of scrappy people invent opportunities and knit together a community of people who were making a permanent difference in Iowa. At the time, it didn’t occur to me to consider myself among them.

None of us could have foreseen what would be accomplished over time. It seemed that each person, place and project inspired more people and ideas to come forward. I also didn’t foresee how immersing myself at Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF) would shape me.

I’ve had the opportunity to be part of amazing projects and programs these past 35 years. I’ve had the privilege of watching INHF go from an idea to a trusted leader in land protection. But no experience has affected me so profoundly as the daily interactions I’ve had with the people I’ve met during my time here.

As vice president and in my previous roles, I have been blessed to meet a steady flow of inspiringly generous people. Imagine being with new people each year who devote their lives to nurturing a special plot of land – and then decide with you how best to entrust it to others. Consider the trust people show as they tell you they are leaving their worldly goods to INHF, so that we might achieve something wonderful on their behalf beyond their lifetimes. Think how exciting it is to know people who selflessly devote themselves year after year to create a trail connecting their community with neighboring towns – and then to celebrate the completion of that trail with them.

These people take my breath away. Being with them has kept me grounded, inspired and hopeful. Their presence has given me a beautiful life.

A lot has changed over the past three-and-a-half decades. People have come and gone. The scope of INHF’s work has expanded. But the shared spirit of our people remains the same.

There’s our heartfelt concern mingled with hope for our Iowa home. We share in our awe and growing knowledge of this land as we work enthusiastically to protect and restore it.

There’s a can-do attitude – a strong combination of boldness, creativity and inviting others in to accomplish important things. The positivity and persistence of our people has often lifted me up. Our people listen well, and are skilled at bringing people and resources together. There’s authentic respect for each individual and partner that works through or with us. Encouragement, knowledge and credit are shared generously.

There’s our common desire to plant seeds – even when we don’t expect to eat the fruit. I’ve had the deep joy of being present when seeds were planted – then to nurture, watch them grow and bear fruit.

After 35 fulfilling years, I will retire from INHF on Dec. 31. This new season will mean more space for other kinds of joy in my life, including more time with my five precious grandchildren who can enjoy the fruit of what we’ve all planted.

It is so satisfying to think of the lasting legacy we continue to create together on the land and for one another.

This is my heartfelt letter of thanks to all of you who have been part of my INHF life. I hope to see some of you later at INHF gatherings or volunteer workdays. Please know that you all remain within me and have formed me. I’m feeling more gratitude for our journey together than I can contain. Thank you for the gift.

Well wishes welcome

INHF had hoped to host a gathering celebrating Anita’s retirement this fall, but that will not be possible due to the ongoing pandemic. If you would like to send words of appreciation and well wishes to Anita, you may do so at anitaogara@gmail.com or by sending a card to INHF at 505 5th Ave., Ste. 444, Des Moines, IA 50309.