SCA Founding President Liz Putnam will be the first to tell you she could not have started SCA without the support of many collaborators and advisors. 65 years later, Liz continues to preach the gospel of Teamwork, and here are six individuals (well, okay, seven) who played key roles in the early days of SCA.
1. A. Scott Warthin, Jr.
A professor of geology at Vassar College, Dr. Warthin was also Liz’s faculty advisor. When Liz decided to pursue a rare inter-departmental major (geology and conservation), Warthin helped her navigate the politically-tossed inter-departmental waters. When Liz wrote her senior thesis on “A Proposed Student Conservation Corps,” Warthin counselled her and challenged her to enact her concept. And as Liz searched for someone to assist her on her SCA venture, Warthin recommended another Vassar alumna, Martha (Hayne) Talbot (see below). The US Department of the Interior recognized Warthin’s role in launching SCA with a public service award in 1986.
2. Martha (Hayne) Talbot
“Liz and I were acquaintances at the time,” recalls the woman known to all as Marty. “We’d taken some classes together, passed notes back and forth in a plant science classes. But Liz’s tenacity was one thing that made an impression on me.” Starting in 1955, the two women continuously worked side by side, first laying the groundwork for SCA – the program structure, the recruiting strategy, the fundraising plan – and then getting SCA off the ground before Marty left in 1959 to begin a long and award-winning career as a biologist and author. Today Marty is recognized as SCA’s co-founder. “Marty and I have stayed friends all these years,” says Liz. “We’re real teammates.”
3. Horace Albright
Upon graduation from Vassar, Liz assembled a “Conservation Who’s Who” list of mentors and advisors, including George Brewer, vice president of the Conservation Foundation; Fred Packard, executive secretary of the National Parks Association); and Bertha MacPherson, daughter of industrialist/conservationist Stephen Mather. Through this latter relationship, Liz was introduced to Horace Albright, the former director of the National Park Service. He was so enamored with Liz’s plan that he directed her to meet with the superintendents of several western parks – even writing a letter of recommendation. “She has some constructive ideas” that “are so interesting,” Albright wrote “any assistance extended will be greatly appreciated.” The letter made people take notice, says Marty Talbot. “It was like ‘Open Sesame!’”
4. Mardy Murie
Influential conservationists, adventurers, and authors, Mardy and her husband Olaus lived in Grand Teton National Park, where Liz would welcome the first SCA volunteers during the summer of 1957. That winter, however, Liz decided to snowshoe to the Murie’s home to introduce herself. Soon, Mardy was regularly inviting SCA’s Teton crews to her home for lemonade and cookies, and that winter visit spurred a lifelong friendship and another valued mentor for Liz.
5. Laurance Rockefeller
Laurance Rockefeller. The Rockefeller family donated much of the land that we now know as Grand Teton National Park, and Laurance Rockefeller had been enthralled with the region since visiting as a teenager. So, when Liz sought to funding in SCA’s first year, Rockefeller underwrote all 16 interns in the Tetons. A few years later, when the fledgling SCA was forced to relocate its headquarters, Rockefeller provided office space – at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City – for free. Liz worked just a few steps away from her patron’s office, and gained further benefit from his ongoing counsel. SCA next moved to Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, the former home of President Theodore Roosevelt, and today both the Rockefellers and Roosevelts remain among SCA’s most devoted supporters.
6. Edward Sanderson Cushman and Elizabeth R. Cushman
You cannot separate Liz’s parents, or the profound influence they had on her. Liz’s father was a former college athlete and World War I veteran who suffered serious internal injuries following a chemical gas attack; her mother was born prematurely and endured a lifetime of maladies. However, as noted in “Live and Lands,” SCA’s 60th anniversary commemorative volume, Liz’s parents “both met serious physical challenges with stoicism, grace and daring. They valued resilience, teamwork and helping others” and instilled in Liz an “ethic that if something needed to be done, you did it.” And Liz continues to encourage others to follow that same approach today.