Hagie Award Winner 1999: Catharine Wieck

Posted on September 23, 1999 in Blog

Conservationist and educator Catharine Wieck of Dysart has been named this year's winner of the Lawrence and Eula Hagie Award, the largest conservation award in Iowa.

The award, given annually by the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation (INHF), recognizes Iowans who have demonstrated an outstanding volunteer commitment to conservation and improvement of the natural environment. As the Hagie Award winner, Cathy will receive $1,000 and a hand-carved acorn sculpture.

INHF is a non-profit, member-supported organization that protects, preserves and enhances Iowa's natural resources for future generations. The group has protected over 50,000 Iowa acres in the past 20 years. This is their tenth year of presenting the Hagie award.

Cathy Wieck taught elementary and middle school science in Dysart, Iowa for 31 years, and even in retirement hasn't slowed down. Since retiring in 1994, she continues to serve as an assistant commissioner for the Tama County Soil and Water District and has been vice president of the Dysart Tree Board and Beautification Committee. She coordinates the regional Envirothon, assists the school district with Arbor Day and their Outdoor Learning Center, and leads the fundraising effort for the Nature Center at Otter Creek Lake Park.

One of her greatest gifts to the students and to the Dysart community came in 1972 when Cathy, independent from her teaching job, planned and planted an Outdoor Learning Center next to the school.

In 1986, she and fellow educator Mary Ann Gregory added a ¼ acre of prairie to the area. A small log cabin soon followed. The area is a great resource for students, Gregory said, and local citizens enjoy walking and bird watching in the prairie.

"The lady just has boundless energy and drive; she's an incredible person," nominator Nancy Havran of the Tama County Soil and Water District said. "She has a willingness to do whatever needs to be done."

In 1965, Cathy began teaching Dysart's children about the world around them. Her lessons extended outside the classroom and into nature. For years she took her fifth-grade students to spend a day at Otter Creek Lake Park for "Conservation Day." They covered topics such as soil types, forestry, chemicals in environment, wildflowers, wildlife conservation, fish, and water safety. The concept caught on, and today, almost 350 fifth-grade students from across the county visit Otter Creek Lake for "Conservation Day."

According to Cathy, all her efforts focus on making the world a better place for those who follow, and assuring that they respect what they are given. Cathy said it is natural for conservation to begin with children, because they love to be outside and are receptive to new ideas.

"Kids are the hope for tomorrow," Cathy said. "They are the future. I sometimes think we haven't done the best job with the world we are handing over to them."

"The most important thing I can teach is that we are here to leave the world a better place than we found it. I really believe that's our mission," Cathy said. "The kids have taught me they are capable of a lot deeper feelings and thoughts than most people think they are. And they've taught me not to take myself too seriously, to keep the joy in it."

"I think Cathy's love for learning made her unique as a teacher, and she really does care about the earth," Gregory said. "She motivates kids and they remember the things that they do forever. She treats the kids with dignity and makes things highly interesting."

Having served her community as an educator, mentor and inspiration for well over 30 years, Cathy has become no stranger to recognition. She received the Hometown Hero award for conservation education in Tama County, the Tama County Friend of Conservation Award in 1985, and a 1996 Department of Natural Resources Recognition Award for her work in community forestry and education.

The Hagie Heritage Award was established by Jan Shindel of DeWitt and Ila Jeanne Logan of Moville, Iowa, in honor of their parents, Lawrence and Eula Hagie.