photo of Maureen Kolbusz and Kaye Martin working in the greenhouse at Barker Woods

Retirement Career? Volunteer!

photo of Maureen Kolbusz and Kaye Martin working in the greenhouse at Barker Woods
Volunteers Maureen Kolbusz (right) and Kaye Martin working in the greenhouse at Barker Woods

Shirley Heinze Land Trust is fortunate to have a dedicated pool of volunteers with a variety of talents and passions. Maureen Kolbusz has to be one of the most resolute! When one of your first experiences as a volunteer with an organization is pulling bent and rusty nails from reclaimed staircase boards, and you still want to come back, you are on a mission!

Maureen recently retired from a 43-year nursing career. She and her husband Mel raised their family of four daughters (now grown, with families of their own) in Oak Park, Illinois. They became interested in Northwest Indiana after family vacations in the area, and eventually bought a home here. “That is when my interest in nature sparked,” Maureen says. “The birds here were unfamiliar to me, and I saw my “Spark Bird,” the Pileated Woodpecker, in the Indiana Dunes State Park.”

Once retired, Maureen finally had the time to pursue her interests. “I met two wonderful women, Mary Nell Murphy, and Kaye Martin, and the three of us took the Master Naturalist Class.” That class led her to Shirley Heinze Land Trust. Looking for opportunities to perform volunteer service, she saw a post about Saw Whet Owl Banding at Meadowbrook. After speaking with Programs Director Sarah Barnes, she decided to check us out, and has been volunteering regularly since then. Thinking back on that first experience of pulling nails, she says, “Those reclaimed boards resulted in the Leopold benches that are out on the preserves.” She finds joy and positivity in other chores, including sprucing up the lodge and seeing it used for special events and the Volunteer Recognition celebration.

Maureen has enjoyed Owl Banding the most, and hopes to continue. A favorite experience was walking into the woods to check the owl nets, and watching Sarah Barnes gently and expertly remove a snared owl from the net. She also really enjoys the seed cleaning workdays in the winter, “where everyone works at the same time and you get to know everyone.”

“I feel so lucky to have been inspired about birds, especially owls, by Sarah Barnes, and to have met Peg Foster and Christine Maloney, who are the plant and environment gurus and never think a question is dumb,” Maureen says. “These three women are so knowledgeable, and love what they do.”

Volunteers Maureen Kolbusz, Sue Olsen, and Peggy Foster socially distance as they work in the native plant garden at Meadowbrook
Maureen Kolbusz photographing moss at Ambler Flatwoods
Maureen Kolbusz identifying moss at Ambler Flatwoods

Her favorite preserve is Ambler Flatwoods Preserve in Michigan City. “I like walking through the preserve in the fall and early summer. There are ferns and fungi, though not many wildflowers, but the way the sun shines through all the trees is so peaceful,” she says. She enjoys Ambler so much that she became a Preserve Steward there, and has trained other Adopt-A-Trail volunteers. Maureen has also volunteered her time at Barker Woods, getting the greenhouse in shape and pulling invasive plants.

One of Maureen’s favorite experiences at Meadowbrook was bringing her husband Mel to see the front native plant garden in bloom. “The compass plants were in bloom and standing tall, as were all the plants and flowers. The prickly pear cactus by the door had just bloomed. I was like a proud mother sharing this with him.”

Maureen decided to put her energy into volunteering after hearing a neighbor give a talk about volunteering at University of Illinois Hospital. “Margaret always loved to bake, and said, ‘I found somewhere to do what I love, and really feel appreciated.’ Her words were so true, not only did Meadowbrook open the door to new friends and knowledge, it is like a family.”

“People are there because they want to be there,” she adds. “They want to help, they want to see the fruits of their labor from collecting, scattering, and planting seeds. They feel the beauty there, and there is a friendly warmth that embraces everyone. Shirley Heinze is growing, and growing, and continues to include and recognize volunteers, even during this time of Covid. They make sure everyone is safe. That’s what a family does, isn’t it?”


Maureen Kolbusz has recently been selected as the Volunteer of the Year.

Congratulations, and thank you, Maureen!

Maureen Kolbusz at Ambler Flatwoods Nature Preserve
Maureen Kolbusz at Ambler Flatwoods Nature Preserve