Liz Cushman Titus Putnam ‘55 is rarely at a loss for words. But it took her a few seconds to recover from the news she received at Vassar Farm when she returned for her 60th reunion: A chapter of the Student Conservation Association, the organization Putnam helped to create nearly six decades ago, is re-locating to the Vassar campus.
Vassar and SCA officials sprung the announcement on Putnam at a picnic at the field station on Vassar Farm on the eve of reunion weekend. Putnam’s eyes widened when Vassar field station and ecological preserve manager Keri Van Camp told her the SCA was “finally coming home.”
“What!?? That’s fabulous!” she says, rocking back slightly on her heels.
“I’m rarely speechless,” Putnam adds a few moments later, “but I’m, ah, speechless.”
Putnam posed an idea in her Vassar senior thesis that became a nationwide phenomenon. Her call for a volunteer army of young people to become stewards of our national parks and other public land led to the creation of the SCA, an organization that has attracted more than 70,000 young people since it was launched in 1957.
The series of events that led to the Hudson Valley SCA chapter’s move to Vassar began when the college secured a $997,000 grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. The money will be used to renovate a large red barn on Vassar Farm and to fund expanded conservation and environmental programs there. The new initiative has been dubbed the Vassar Conservation and Environmental Engagement Cooperative.
Meanwhile, officials at Hudson Valley SCA learned they would no longer be able to rent office space at the Mohonk Mountain Preserve in Ulster County. When word of the impending eviction reached Vassar, a deal was struck to have the chapter move its offices to space in the renovated barn. “We were panicking a little,” SCA regional program manager Kathy Baugh told Putnam. “Then the universe kind of aligned.”
The Hudson Valley chapter’s staff and 40 volunteers take part in various conservation projects between New York City and Albany, many of them in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Environmental Conservation.
Later at the picnic, Putnam was still digesting the news. “Well, that was mind-boggling,” she says. “I don’t often cry, but right then, I almost lost it.”
She says she’s eager to see how expanded programming made possible by the Helmsley grant would spur conservation efforts, not just at Vassar and in surrounding communities but elsewhere. “This is what happens when you have great teamwork,” Putnam says. “I hope what’s happening at Vassar will serve as an example of how collaboration and cooperation can help us all preserve and protect the land.”
Photos by Buck Lewis