Donor Spotlight: The Norma Harrison Wing at River Bend Farm

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The campaign to raise funding for our River Bend Farm project brings forth the special opportunity for everyday 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 sharing the intimate purpose of each gift with The Ecology School community!


Faith In Nature And The Legacy Of Family
Written by Drew Dumsch, President and CEO of The Ecology School


“Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed... Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." – Henry David Thoreau

My maternal grandmother, Norma Harrison, was a profound champion of nature in so many ways. Throughout the 1970's and 80's she designed a nature preserve on 20 acres of flat mid-Michigan farmland where she and her four sisters were raised. Norma hosted "tree parties” every spring where family and friends would plant spruces, oaks, pines and cedars to create new wild acreage for her beloved birds, mammals and varied plant life. Norma was a passionate birder and traveled throughout the country visiting state and national parks and preserves to explore and add to her life list of species. She financially supported numerous environmental organizations and always sought to pass on her love of the out-of-doors to her 5 children and 9 grandchildren.

Not every child gets to have a ‘Norma Harrison' as grandmother and, as I've told many people over the years, her legacy includes instilling in me a deep love of nature. When my twin brother and I were squirrelly little boys she would take us on long walks in the nearby Haymarsh Nature Preserve. When I was a teenager we'd travel the county gravel backroads together searching for blooming wildflowers. Or, when I was in college, she and I marveled at a "full moon on a soft summer night” (as she once wrote in a poem) as we listened to the haunting call of sandhill cranes out in the distance.

Norma lived to see me found The Ecology School in December 1998 but then passed away a year later at the age of 85. As we began to set the stage for our Capital Campaign for the River Bend Farm Project last winter, I had long talks with my mom, Mary Dumsch, and her brother, David Harrison, on how we might best honor Norma's legacy. The three of us reached out to family and friends throughout the country and I'm please to share with you all that 42 individuals who knew Norma and appreciated her passion for the environment, including Norma's 90 year old sister, Marjory Keeler! — have now come together to raise the substantial funds needed to name the North Wing of the new River Bend Farm Dormitory after Norma. Construction of the North Wing of the “Normatory” (as my mom is now calling Norma’s “wing") is slated to begin in March 2019 along with the building of the two other dorm wings and the 7,000 square foot dining commons.

This special Capital Campaign naming opportunity for my grandmother feels like such a concrete way to honor Norma's faith that if she planted the "seeds of nature" within her loved ones, we would all be prepared to expect life-long wonders while gaining a strong and abiding conservation ethic.

From dorm rooms to outdoor pathways, each thoughtfully designed feature models sustainable construction 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.