Liz Putnam Goes Back to the Garden

SCA Founder Liz Putnam and the Garden Club of America (GCA) go way back. Liz received GCA’s prestigious Margaret Douglas Medal for advancing conservation education in 1966 and has been a GCA member for 50 years. GCA provided SCA with important seed funding (no pun intended) in SCA’s early years and to date its member clubs have donated more than $1 million. 
So when the Garden Study Club and the Town Gardeners recently invited Liz to speak at their joint meeting in New Orleans, Liz eagerly accepted.
“These two clubs represent a combined 150 years of community service and improvement,” Liz said at the presentation. “To achieve such historic and celebrated status in a city known for history and celebration is quite remarkable.”
Liz outlined SCA’s work in the Gulf region, revealed how SCA service impacts youth development, and – in keeping with SCA’s 60th anniversary – shared anecdotes about the challenges of launching SCA back in the mid-1950s. She noted one male skeptic couldn’t get over the idea of young college women serving as interns. “What could be funnier than a woman in a ranger hat!?” he asked.
Six decades and 85,000 volunteers – more than half of whom were women – later, Liz wryly noted “I’ve often wondered how that doubting ranger must have felt when the National Park Service named me an Honorary Park Ranger and gave me a very distinctive award: my own ranger hat—for which I am deeply honored and very grateful. Humph! Funny, indeed!!”
As she typically does in her speeches, Liz invited local SCA members to join her on stage. “Thanks to SCA,” said Jenna Rockett, a resource management intern at Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, “I’m receiving top-notch training and experience while serving with professionals dedicated to protecting the country’s natural and cultural resources. I could not have asked for a better opportunity to learn the conservation field.”
Centennial Volunteer Ambassadors Kim Samaniego and Brianna Sims, phenology intern Carly Rekosh, and Ranger and SCA alumna Cam Amabile also addressed the crowd. “I wouldn’t have this job without SCA,” Ranger Amabile stated. 
Two days later, Liz addressed the Columbine Garden Club in Phoenix at the new headquarters of Liberty Wildlife, an animal rehab and conversation organization. As she spoke, staffers waited outside to show club members their recovering hawks, falcons and other raptors.
Liz noted that children today enjoy an average of eight minutes of day of unstructured outdoor time versus eight hours of day in front of an electronic screen. Moments later, intern Sarah Pritchett, who is working with the local Girl Scout council to spur more nature-based activities for girls and families, took the floor. “I want girls to know how empowering it is to hike five miles, or climb fifty feet above the ground,” she said. “Without our support, some girls will never play in the dirt or like bugs. Breaking these stereotypes is important to me. By investing in our girls, we are investing in our future.”
Centennial Volunteer Ambassador Rachel Wehr, who drove up from Saguaro National Park in Tucson for the event, also stressed the need to build “public lands stewards of the future.”
The day was unseasonably cool, so the tour was somewhat abbreviated. But the Garden Club members’ enthusiasm was not. “SCA is doing amazing things,” said one. “You’re just what we need right now.”
Student Conservation Association