After 20 years of working at The Conservation Foundation, our Vice President of Land and Watershed Programs Dan Lobbes has some advice to share: “If you want to get somewhere, don’t go hiking with a botanist or ride in a vehicle that a birder is driving.” If you know (or are) anyone like that, you know how right he is. And if you know Dan, you know he possesses a special brand of patience. That’s how he’s been able to endure 20 years with the botanists and birders that make up the rest of The Conservation Foundation’s staff! It’s also how he’s been able to make a giant impact on land preservation in northeastern Illinois.
Dan had many lives before this one as a chef, a photographer, in the corporate world (he actually holds two patents on software and hardware for limit systems), and he nearly became owner of a Great Harvest Bread Company store. He began his unexpected career in conservation as a volunteer with The Conservation Foundation while in between jobs; after the pressure of corporate life he wanted take it slow, give back a little, and find work he could feel good about at the end of the day. “Sometimes,” he said, “you just have to step into the universe and let it reveal a path for you.” After a year and a half spent cleaning the barn, pulling weeds, helping with mailings and just doing whatever needed doing around McDonald Farm, Dan was offered a job as a part-time Office Assistant at The Conservation Foundation. Over time he took on new roles, and eventually learned the land preservation trade from his mentor and our former Director of Land Preservation Bill Davis.
“I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by the best, most knowledgeable people,” Dan reflects. “Walking a property with Brook or Jennifer or Judy Fitchett, I always felt like what they see in color, I see in black and white.” But Dan sells himself short. Patience and persistence are the essential traits for his work, and he has them both in abundance. “In land preservation, you have to be there, you have to stay there, you have to hear the meaning behind what’s being said. What’s right for the land is so, so important. But what’s right for the property owner, right for the family – that’s the highest goal of any project. When you find the intersection between the two, some might say it’s magic.”
In fact, Dan, some HAVE said it. The late Eleanor Himmelfarb, an artist with a small but pristine wooded property near the DuPage River in Winfield, referred to Dan as a magician after he worked first with her and then with several other landowners in her neighborhood to put their properties under the protection of conservation easements. This hovel of protected open spaces clustered together on Marian Road is on the list of Dan’s favorite projects over the last twenty years. But every family had different needs and different timelines, and Dan’s ability to listen, to remain calm, to think creatively and to earn people’s trust made all the difference for this neighborhood, as it has in so many other places and projects. “The rolling up my sleeves and figuring out how to make it all work – that’s my favorite part!”.
All told, Dan has had a direct hand in the protection of 91 properties totaling 5,286 acres in northeastern Illinois. That’s just incredible. Dan, his wife Mary and their two grown sons can drive all across the region and see firsthand what an impact his hard work has made on the quality of life and natural beauty of our service territory. Equally incredible are the impacts his leadership and example have had within our organization. “Personally for me,” said our President/CEO Brook McDonald, “Dan has been my right hand through all of the growth and development at The Conservation Foundation over the past 20 years. I trust him wholly and he deserves a lot of credit for our success during his time here.”
Congratulations on your 20th Anniversary, Dan, and thank you for making us better in every way!
Written by Jill Johnson, Communications Manager