Renaissance man, philosopher, mensch: All of these apply to long-term volunteer site steward Brian Scheuch. He was a huge asset to the Conservancy’s stewardship of the 4,000 acre Port Susan Bay preserve, putting in around 200 volunteer hours a year.
Shortly after the Conservancy purchased the property, Brian started volunteering. He mowed the yard around the former owner’s house and the 7,000-foot-long dike. He pruned the old roses and fruit trees. He spruced up the old house to host visiting groups during rainy or cold weather.
But his favorite “job” was leading tours of the preserve. Having been a member of the duck-hunting club that used to be on the site, he had knowledge of the 30 years of history at Port Susan and had an large bank of stories to tell about the human and natural history of the site.
He also had a special passion for fostering a love of the outdoors and nature in youth, from the annual youth hunts at the Port Susan Bay Preserve to years on the board of the North Cascades Institute. Brian believed in the future potential of getting kids out in nature, and he generated countless ideas for tours and programs for kids.
Brian only stopped volunteering in 2014 when health issues caught up with him. He passed away in November 2016. We remembered Brian on June 23 by installing a memorial bench at the Port Susan Bay preserve in view of the purple martin houses he championed and the open marsh pools filled with ducks.
We were lucky to have all three of Brian’s children, several grandchildren and his partner in attendance for a short ceremony of poetry and fond memories, followed by a picnic lunch and more storytelling. We also took advantage of the time with his family to learn more about what volunteering, Port Susan Bay and the Conservancy had meant to Brian.
What did nature mean to Brian?
It evolved for him. When he was younger, he was a hunter and the older kind of naturalist, who killed and preserved wildlife to study them. Did he show you his skull collection? In college, he spent his summers working for the forest service. For several summers, he was a ranger up at Harts Pass [in the North Cascades] and a smoke jumper. And then in his later years, when he was volunteering, it was an escape, a place of solitude, solace and curiosity about all the plants and animals. It drove him nuts that I [his son] didn’t like plants. He also was very passionate about getting kids out in nature and instilling a stewardship ethic. The book "Last Child in the Woods" really affected him and he shared copies around with many of his friends and family.
What was his favorite Nature Conservancy preserve or project?
Port Susan Bay, by far. He certainly talked about other preserves in the Skagit Valley, but Port Susan had a strong connection for him. He knew the former owner well, and it was a place he could come to get away from people and connect with nature. It was a paradise he had all to himself.
What was his favorite thing to do when he wasn’t volunteering?
He was always busy. He enjoyed having a good glass of wine with friends. He was a voracious reader all his life. Growing up, there were always stacks of books around the house. Teaching naturalist classes at the Anacortes senior college, he really used that skull collection!
How did volunteering make him feel more connected to nature and his community?
He could not understand why people would just want to wither away at the golf course in retirement and not be out volunteering or doing things. He was always both active and not afraid to speak up when he disagreed. He really believed you should be involved in your community. He was on Rotary, the Epoxy industry Association, Audubon, the NRA, LaConner planning commission, friends of the Library and the North Cascades Institute.
Did Brian ever convince someone to do something they didn't want to do (for a good cause)?
Yes, he pushed the town of LaConner into creating a new waterfront park! At the parks committee hearing, he went around to each commissioner, looked each in the eye and asked if they were willing to do this for the children. He wasn’t going to let them off until they agreed to do it, and they did.
As the family members of this dedicated man, is there anything you would like to see The Nature Conservancy doing that we are not already doing?
More environmental education: Later in life, this became so important to him.