Dr. Ron Eckoff Wins 2023 Hagie Heritage Award

Posted on October 9, 2023 in Press Center


Contact: Joe Jayjack, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation Communications Director

515-288-1846, jjayjack@inhf.org

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has selected Dr. Ron Eckoff of Cumming to receive the 2023 Hagie Heritage Award. Endowed in 1989 by Jan Shindel and Ila Jeanne Logan in honor of their parents, Lawrence and Eula Hagie, the award recognizes Iowans who have demonstrated extraordinary personal service and commitment to improving the quality of Iowa’s natural environment, while encouraging others to do the same.

Ron Eckoff developed a passion for prairies after a 35-year career in public health, earning an M.D. from the University of Michigan and an M.P.H. from Harvard University. After a successful career advocating for human health, he turned to that of prairie ecosystems.

Ron’s conservation journey began after he and his wife Barb bought a 75-acre pasture (which they would later expand) in Warren County near St. Marys. Ron and Barb named the property Twin Oaks. According to Mark Wilson, director of Warren County Conservation, “one moment of trying to identify a few plants on his farm led to a 23-year long quest to learn everything he could about Iowa’s native prairies.”

Over the past two decades, Ron has spent his time tirelessly tending to the Twin Oaks property. He has dedicated countless hours to removing non-native and invasive species including honeysuckle, Eastern red cedar and multiflora rose. He mostly worked alone, but enlisted the help of grandsons and others to carry out prescribed burns.  

Friend and colleague Tom Rosburg has worked with Ron since he first purchased the Twin Oaks property, recognizing Ron’s contributions to his own scientific research. When Tom first surveyed the property in 2004, he found a total of 170 vascular plant species, in addition to savanna and prairie remnants. After years of Ron’s prolonged efforts to restore the health of the property, Twin Oaks became the study site for Tom’s 2017 Bucknell Soil Series, investigating the relationships between soils and native vegetation.

In addition to opening the property for scientific research, Ron has not hesitated to encourage the public to come and experience Twin Oaks. Ron and Barb have facilitated various prairie walks throughout their property, with the ultimate goal of sharing Ron’s passion for conservation and educating visitors about the importance of prairie health. Next year, Ron and Barb plan to donate about 80 acres to become a nature preserve owned and managed by the Warren County Conservation Board. It will then be accessible for anyone interested in prairie remnants.

Ron has also dedicated countless hours over the last 15 years as a volunteer land steward at Browns Woods, a popular forest preserve in southwest Des Moines. Ron is a keeper of many titles, but his friends at Polk County Conservation label him a “caretaker of native gardens,” “eradicator of invasive plant species,” and “an exemplary champion for environmental stewardship.”

In 2022, Ron published an essay recounting his conservation journey titled, “Making a Difference: A Personal Story,” within the book “Tending Iowa’s Land: Pathways to a Sustainable Future” by Connie Mutel. Through his writing and stewardship work, Ron clearly embodies the attributes associated with the Hagie Heritage Award. Ron states, “I have always believed in trying to leave the world a little bit better than I found it. I think the restoration work I am doing at Twin Oaks is bringing native prairie and savanna communities back to health. When combined with the efforts of many other individuals in south central Iowa and throughout Iowa, we are making a difference.” At eighty-five, Ron hopes to continue to work on the restoration as a volunteer for the Warren County Conservation Board for several more years.

Ron will be honored as the 2023 Hagie Heritage Award recipient at the Iowa Nature Summit at Drake University on Nov. 17. He will receive $1,500 and a hand-carved acorn sculpture by Dennis and Linda Schlicht, commemorating his commitment to protecting Iowa land for generations to come.

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation is a nonprofit conservation group that works with private landowners and public partners to protect and restore Iowa's land, water and wildlife. Since its founding in 1979, INHF has helped protect more than 190,000 acres of Iowa's natural resources. Learn more at www.inhf.org.

Learn more about the Hagie Heritage Award and how to submit nominations here.