Stories from the Field

Dr. Hester L. Turner, An Inspiration and Female Trailblazer

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By the time Dr. Hester L. Turner was in her early 40s, she had a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doctorate degree and law degree. She was Dean of Students at Lewis & Clark College and on her way to becoming the executive director of Camp Fire Girls, the first multicultural camping and outdoor organization for young women.

She has traveled solo to South America, slept in a tent in Africa at the age of 91 and visited the western edge of Alaska by seaplane. Today, at the age of 102, Hester has wit, energy and passion about life and the natural world around her. She recently took time to share with us her fond memories of serving on the NatureBridge board.

A Passion for the Natural World

Hester always had a passion for the natural world, one that was fostered through days spent outdoors growing up in Texas, wandering among the bluebonnets. It was her father who taught her to swim, hunt and fish. He loved to picnic and be outside, she recalled.

“So I learned to hunt and fish and be outside too,” Hester said. “And then I quit hunting and fishing and just loved to be outside. The beauty and wonder of nature, the beautiful flowers, the great huge trees, how lucky we are. I want to keep these things green and beautiful, these things that enable us to live.”
It was that deep passion for all things green that led Hester to involve herself with organizations focused on increasing access to the outdoors. She wanted to ensure that children living in cities had the same opportunity to explore the outdoors that everyone else had.

When the opportunity for a seat on the NatureBridge board arose, it was a perfect fit.

There have to be people who will take time and energy to learn what’s happening and be willing to stand for change. You have to have people who are willing to say ‘look, we can make this better.’ I wanted to be part of that at NatureBridge and I wanted to see it grow.
Dr. Hester L. Turner

Paving the Way for Female Leaders

By the time Hester joined NatureBridge in 1983, then the Yosemite Institute, she was used to being one of the few females in the room. 

She became the very first female board member of American Forests, then named the American Forestry Association, in 1973. After serving as vice president for two years, she was named president in 1980. She was the first woman to be elected to the executive board of the National Wildlife Association and just the second woman to sit on the board. In fact, she was the first woman on a whole number of boards throughout her career. 

“I didn’t think of it that way, being the first woman,” she said. “I was dean of students on a college campus when there were only about half a dozen female deans of students in the country. I had to learn fast.”

In a YouTube video commemorating her 100th birthday, Hester recalled many people asking how she felt about breaking the glass ceiling. Her response? “I didn’t know there was a glass ceiling!”

NatureBridge in the 1980s

From 1983 to 1990, Dr. Hester brought her law and academic insight, zest for life and sense of humor to the organization. She was part of the committee traveling to national parks to set up more campuses. Along with Dr. Houston, a Peace Corps doctor and NatureBridge board member she spoke so wonderfully of, she helped to cultivate the partnership in Olympic National Park. In 1988, the Olympic Campus at Lake Crescent was opened and the amenities were complete with donated carpeting, thanks to Hester’s seat on the board of a carpet company.

“I think back to all that we had done,” she said. “Every person on that board, they were just wonderful.”

She spoke fondly of her time spent on the NatureBridge board, the kids that were served and the work that the board accomplished.

“Early on, we had to convince people that the work we were doing was worthwhile, that it was needed,” she said. “The board gave their time because they knew we needed natural places for people to see how we are all a part of nature. Nature is bigger than we are and we have to learn to fit into it without destroying it.”

Isn’t it great? 1 million students who know what it’s like to be outside and see sunshine and grass and trees, who can encourage others to do the same. NatureBridge is working for something that will sustain [our planet] in the future.
Dr. Hester L. Turner

The Future of NatureBridge

I asked Dr. Turner what 50 years of NatureBridge meant. As she explained, to witness five decades of connecting kids to the wonder and science of the natural world means that the mission was important enough to be sustained. 

“If you have a purpose and you’re working toward that and you have friends doing the same thing, it’s easy,” she said. “And then it’s exciting to see the results… I can’t believe all that NatureBridge has accomplished.”

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