ROCK FALLS – This is the first Lifetime Achievement Award given out by the Rock River Development Authority.
The question is how will it outperform its first recipient?
The inaugural prize was awarded April 11 to longtime local conservationist Tim Keller, widely known as the “Godfather of Restoration.”
Keller, 81, a 1960 Sterling High graduate, has a lifetime of dirt under his fingernails.
He served in the Peace Corps in 1962, teaching farming techniques to the Aymara Indians in Bolivia before attending the University of Illinois, where he earned his degree in agricultural science.
He went on to become a U.S. Department of Agriculture Soil Scientist, mapping the soils of 10 northern Illinois counties, and eventually, a Subject Matter Expert, or “SME,” on native grasses and wilderness.
Keller is one of the founders of the RRDA, as well as the Natural Area Guardians and the Prairie Preservation Society of Ogle County. He is also a founding member of Middle Rock Conservation Partners, which focuses on conservation efforts in Lee, Ogle and Whiteside counties.
He left his considerable mark on the Nachusa Grasslands Preserve in Franklin Grove, where a building is named the Tim Keller Education Center, and the Byron Forrest Preserve, which he also helped establish, and which is also home to Keller Education Center. , where, among many other activities, the Keller Nursery School meets.
Among other sites, he is responsible for this lovely little patch of prairie along State Highway 2 at Sauk Valley Community College in Dixon, under the care of the Sauk Prairie Committee and the Natural Area Guardians of Lee and Whiteside County, and he has also saved a sliver of prairie between Lyndon and Agnew, part of which became an Illinois Nature Commission preserve.
He has guided many private landowners who have started their own private prairie patches or undertaken other restoration projects.
He was a board member and vice-chairman of the Whiteside County Soil and Water Conservation District, and a board member of the Natural Land Institute in Rockford.
In 2010, the Sterling Schools Foundation named Keller a Distinguished Alumni.
As chairman of the Manahan Home Historic Restoration Committee and past president and vice president of the Sterling-Rock Falls Historical Society, he has also worked to preserve other aspects of local history. For example, as a member of the Bicentennial Commission, he helped dedicate Union Grove Cemetery west of Morrison. He also helped bring the statue of Lincoln to Propheter Park in Sterling.
He was not honored solely for his past accomplishments, vast as they were.
It is Keller’s generous spirit, his willingness to share his six decades of hard-earned knowledge, and the way he inspires others that has earned him recognition from the RRDA.
“By sharing his vast knowledge of natural resources and wildlife with the next generation, he has ensured that his efforts will continue to bear fruit in the future,” RRDA Secretary James Marks said at the ceremony.
Keller and his wife, Carolyn, a curator in her own right, have two daughters. They retired from farming and operating the Ye Olde Cider Mill on the west side of Sterling (where they were once named Whiteside County Conservation Farm Family of the Year).
Upcoming cleaning in Oppold
The Rock River Development Authority is looking for volunteers to help with the June 4 land and river cleanup, which begins at 7am at Oppold Marina, 200 Stouffer Road in Sterling.
Volunteers, especially those with boats, are urged to check ahead with RRDA President Kyle Sommers, 815-718-4693, so they have a good idea of how many people will be coming.
Be dressed properly; water and cleaning materials will be provided.
Volunteers can also send a message to Sommers, or find out more about the RRDA, on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/RRDA.RF.