Donor Spotlight: Joe and Joanna Alex Legacy Challenge

The campaign to raise funding for our River Bend Farm project brings forth the opportunity for special people to be honored by family and friends through gifts in their name. The places at River Bend Farm that have been (and continue to be!) named hold heartfelt stories of people and businesses whose life’s mission or business promise is to preserve our natural resources and promote their conservation through educational programming. In several instances our supporters have been inspired to raise funds from friends and family in honor of someone they hold dear. We look forward to this opportunity to share the intimate and inspired purpose of many gifts with our community!

In 1983, Joanne and Joe Alex founded the Stillwater Montessori School in Old Town, Maine. While always intended to be a leading primary and elementary school, educating children according to their individual capabilities and needs, it was not originally intended to be a leading institution in the instruction of environmental education. As the school naturally grew from one room to multiple rooms and its faculty expanded, so too did their approach to environmental science. “Our parents’ motivation to teach this way was very intuitive—it was simply the way they lived their lives. They were genuine learners and explorers, whether finding garter snakes in the yard for students to observe or in their approach to living a more sustainable life,” said Jessica Keenan, eldest of the couple’s three children who all spent part of their formative education at the school. Inspired by the words of Rachel Carson, both Stillwater Montessori School and The Ecology School strive to encourage excitement and curiosity in the natural world.

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” –Rachel Carson

Animals and plants are as much a part of the world as the people around you. One of the biggest problems in the world today is how disconnected children are to the world around us.
— -Juli Alex

By the mid 1990’s, the Stillwater Montessori School and its team had become the recipient of numerous awards for excellence in education, including the 1998 Maine State Teacher of the Year award and recognition from the National Geographic Society for place-based education. In the fall of 2008, Joanne suggested that their son, Joel, apply to The Ecology School as an Educator.

Joel did and subsequently returned the following fall for a second term: “My mother originally encouraged me to work at The Ecology School as an Educator in 2008 because the missions and approaches of the two schools are so closely aligned.” Drew recalls that Joel was a passionate Educator, who, like so many others, experienced a transformation and emerged as a truly entrepreneurial thinker, starting Blue Ox Malthouse several years later. This led to his invitation to join the The Ecology School Board in 2013.

After more than 35 years of work, Joanne and Joe have planned to retire. In consideration of this, their three children, Jessica, Joel, and Juli approached The Ecology School about honoring their parents’ commitment to environmental education by naming an outdoor study space at River Bend Farm after them.  Throughout 2018 and early 2019, the siblings raised $20,000 from over 73 friends and family. After keeping it a secret for nearly a year, on Saturday, June 1 Joanne and Joe were presented with the recognition of naming an outdoor study space in their honor.

From dorm rooms to outdoor pathways, each thoughtfully designed feature of the River Bend Farm project models sustainable construction and ecological practices and serves as a teaching resource for our program participants. If you would like to learn more about naming opportunities at River Bend Farm, please contact Development Director, Bryan Matluk at (207) 283-9951 or bryan@theecologyschool.org.

  

Drew Dumsch, The Ecology School President & CEO, presents Joe and Joanne Alex with recognition of their named outdoor study space on June 1, 2019.

Drew Dumsch, The Ecology School President & CEO, presents Joe and Joanne Alex with recognition of their named outdoor study space on June 1, 2019.

Jessica Keenan, Joel Alex, and Drew Dumsch at River Bend Farm’s Groundbreaking Ceremony in July 2019.

Jessica Keenan, Joel Alex, and Drew Dumsch at River Bend Farm’s Groundbreaking Ceremony in July 2019.