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Living a life of environmental stewardship

March 19, 2009

A lifetime of stewardship honored

Students, faculty, and staff have made huge advances in the last several years to make PLU an ecologically friendly and sustainable campus. Thelma Gilmur ’42 has been living these ideals her whole life.

Gilmur, 85, accepted the Helen Engle Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cascade Land Conservancy last fall in honor of her years of commitment as a conservation advocate and charter member of the Tahoma Audubon Society.

Her dedication to preserving nature began at a young age. “I grew up on a farm in the area,” she said. “Over time, I remember seeing farmland slowly disappear.” She noted that few regulations existed then to protect undeveloped land.

A proposed development project at China Lake Park in her Fircrest neighborhood led Gilmur into her first conservation mission. She and a group of local conservationists recruited friends and strangers to help save the beloved urban forest area.

“After China Lake, people became enthusiastic about conservation,” she said.

Increased interest led to the creation of the Tahoma Audubon Society in 1969, the county’s first chapter of the national environmental advocacy organization.

Gilmur has also made a big difference through her passion for education. She received her teaching degree from PLU and has served as a teacher and administrator throughout the United States. During her career, she often taught environmental education in the classroom.

“In the ’60s and ’70s, outdoor education became a much bigger part of the curriculum,” she said.

Schools began taking their students on nature field trips, and Gilmur would often be the one to teach students about native plants and wildlife.

While she was serving as the chair of elementary education for the Tacoma School District, U. S. Congress passed the law that established Earth Day in 1970.

Gilmur fondly recalls her time at Pacific Lutheran College. Diverse wildlife such as owls and deer roamed in the forests that stood directly behind Harstad Hall, and Clover Creek flowed freely through the center of campus. She has continued to bring groups of young conservationists to campus in the last several years to teach them about the flora and fauna that remain PLU.

“I am so pleased that colleges like PLU are doing so much to make a sustainable world,” she said. “It’s wonderful to see happening because it’s just so necessary.”