Why I became a Mississippi River Legacy Society member

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Mississippi River changed the course of my career. I began my career as an educator teaching children indoors, spending almost all of our time between the four walls of our classroom in St. Paul. I now spend much of my teaching time outdoors, helping children and colleagues explore nature’s outdoor classroom of land, water, and wildlife. The Mighty Mississippi played a key role in this mid-career pivot.

Let’s rewind for a moment. In the early 2000s, I had already been teaching for a decade and was feeling frustrated and stifled. My colleagues and I were finding it increasingly difficult to engage and inspire our learners. I was getting tired of managing challenging behaviors and was feeling more like a police officer than an educator. I actually started to contemplate leaving teaching. 

That fall, our 6th graders were invited on the Big River Journey, a ride down the Mississippi River on one of the giant paddlewheel boats. Onboard, experts from various fields of study introduced us to the history of the river, water quality and aquatic invertebrates, river geology, river birds, river ecosystems, river boats, and river stewardship. Our students were on fire! They were utterly engaged and visibly fascinated with the magnificence of the Mississippi River. It dawned on me, “This is how to reach and teach students! In nature, in context, in the real world!” We used that field trip to launch cross-cultural, cross-curricular studies of the Mississippi River and its place in our community and in the world. 

It wasn’t long before students expressed an urge to DO something to help the river, to educate others about how our actions affect the health and quality of the water, fish, and wildlife. We reached out to the Friends of the Mississippi River. Eager to help, FMR immediately sent out two cheerful staffers to facilitate storm drain stenciling in our eastside neighborhood. Students worked in teams to sweep the storm drains free of debris, align stencils, spray paint, and hang information leaflets on neighbors’ doors. Other kids in the neighborhood saw them and were intrigued by this energized fleet of River Stewards… and wanted in. Four grants and multiple river projects sprang from that original storm drain stenciling experience with FMR.

Now that I have completed my 25th year of teaching in Saint Paul Public Schools, I am pondering my legacy, “What would I like students and colleagues to remember about my work here?” I sincerely hope that my work has inspired learners to connect to the joys and wonders of the natural world, to seek ways to steward and improve our land and waters. I hope they remember the incredible beauty and magnificent power of the Mississippi River and the vital role it plays in all of our lives. I hope they recognize the Mississippi as the life blood of our community. 

I am so grateful to the Friends of the Mississippi River for that early and enthusiastic support for my students and me. As part of my lifelong legacy, I want to be a part of FMR’s mission to engage people to protect, restore and enhance the Mississippi River and its watershed.

That is why I have pledged to be a member of the Mississippi River Legacy Society. I simply designated FMR as one of my beneficiaries on my state retirement account on an easy online form. I feel good about investing in the future. 

FMR clearly embodies their core values of Stewardship, Sustainability, Leadership, Collaboration, Expertise, Integrity, and Equity. What important work! I hope you will join me in supporting the Friends of the Mississippi River in this vital mission. Together, there is so much we can do. Thank you, FMR!!

In the Lakota language, the phrase Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ is a recognition of our underlying connection, of how we are all related. It is a prayer of oneness with all forms of life: people, animals, birds, insects, and even rocks and rivers. That is what our studies of the Mississippi have so powerfully demonstrated – that we are all part of one big wondrous and wonderful web of life, how our lives and the life of the river are incredibly, irreversibly linked. 

FMR would be happy to work with your trusted advisors on your river legacy. To learn more about creating a lasting Mississippi River legacy by making a deferred gift to benefit FMR, please contact Tessa Enroth, Individual Gifts Officer, at 651-222-2193 x22 or tenroth@fmr.org

Upcoming Events

Saturday, April 20 - 9:30 AM to Noon
West River Parkway and 36th Street/44th Street, Minneapolis
Applications due Friday, May 3 by 5 p.m.
Virtual and in-person
Wednesday, May 8, 2024 - 1:00pm to 3:00pm
Hampton Woods Wildlife Management Area