Stories from the Field

The Adventures of NatureBridge's Iconic Ingrid Apter

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NatureBridge educator Ingrid Apter sitting against a white wall with a cup in hand sitting on green cushions

Ingrid Apter has lived a life of adventure: adventure in love, adventure in religion and adventure in the outdoors—from the Swiss Alps to the Canadian Rockies and many places in between. She’s an avid skier regularly tackling black diamonds, a vibrant member of the San Francisco community and a talented painter. And at 76, Ingrid is NatureBridge’s oldest—and arguably most iconic—environmental science educator. 

Ingrid’s path to teaching environmental science at our Golden Gate campus was not exactly linear. Though like most individuals who have had a connection with NatureBridge at some time in their life, her story comes full circle.

The early outdoor years

Ingrid’s connection to nature began in early childhood growing up in Hamburg, Germany in the 1950s and 1960s. She would play outdoors with friends in the WWII ruins surrounding her neighborhood. Later on, her family began spending weekends just outside the city at a cottage with kerosene lamps and an outhouse on a nature preserve. It was here she acquired a love for hiking and skiing. 

Though Ingrid had already had her fair share of adventures, the summer of 1966 was the start of something that would be the catalyst for all future endeavors. Ingrid was in Switzerland studying French when she met Gary Apter, a Jewish medical student from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 

“Despite the great differences between us in language, religion and, especially, citizenship, Gary and I became closer and closer,” wrote Ingrid in a recent essay of her journey to Judaism. “Neither one of our families considered each of us a well-suited partner for life. For Gary to bring home a German bride was the last thing that a Jewish family living in a very Jewish neighborhood had wanted. (For the first year I was introduced as a Swiss bride!).”

Despite all odds, Ingrid and Gary were married by an American Rabbi three years later—one of the few who would honor a “mixed marriage” at the time. 

A happenstance with NatureBridge

Ingrid’s love of American West stories in popular German novels, paired with a sense of adventure inherited from her mother, didn’t leave her sitting still for long. Ingrid and Gary soon journeyed to San Francisco where they began to lay down a foundation and build a community. Together, with their two children, they fostered a life lived outdoors.

In the spring of 1998 Ingrid took a trip to Yosemite National Park with family friends. At the time, her daughter was an eighth grader at Presidio Middle School. While there, Ingrid had seen a flier for NatureBridge (then known as Yosemite Institute). Before long she found herself as the lead chaperone, organizing bake sales and fundraisers and practicing public speaking at parent meetings.

Ingrid single handedly—well, with the “jubilant verbal support” of the principal at the time—convinced a school district and 120 parents to permit their students to attend NatureBridge.

“It’s one of the two legacies that I’m leaving the city of San Francisco,” said Ingrid. “Every year since then, Presidio Middle School eighth graders have had the opportunity to experience Yosemite at NatureBridge.”

So many students do not have the privilege to experience the outdoors… It’s the most wonderful blessing to bring students out in our magnificent national parks to breathe, to discover, to hike, to dig, to journal.
Ingrid Apter

A career in the outdoors

With a degree as a German English translator and a Masters in French, Ingrid spent many years teaching adult French at the College of Marin; she also spent several years studying and working as an interior designer, served as co-director of the San Francisco German Saturday School and led her daughter’s Campfire Girls chapter, but eventually, Ingrid chose to pursue her love for teaching in the outdoors.

In the late 1990s, Ingrid served as an educator in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, leading daily discovery walks. The programs included a guided walk and discovery kit—a curriculum-based, hands-on science kit created by Ingrid herself. Similar to NatureBridge programming, the discovery kit allowed kids to take what they’d learned back to their classrooms. 

It was working in nature education with Wildcare in San Rafael later on that led to a connection with the head of NatureBridge’s Golden Gate campus (formerly, the Headlands Institute). At the time, Ingrid didn’t realize the connection to the Yosemite Institute. She laughed recalling her later realization that she would have had a much easier time convincing the school district of a trip just across the bridge!

In 1999 Ingrid submitted an application to be an environmental science educator at NatureBridge at Golden Gate campus.

“That was the beginning of my career 20 years ago—at the age of 56!” she said.

A lasting NatureBridge impact

Ingrid believes strongly in the power of outdoor education and immediately fell into step with the educators and students on campus. Today, Ingrid remains a vibrant member of the NatureBridge community. Fellow educators describe her as adventurous, loving and generous, with an indomitable spirit that inspires those around her. Currently, she is being commissioned to paint a mural depicting the diverse ecosystems of the Marin Headlands in the Skin and Skull Lab at our Golden Gate campus.

Teaching environmental science at the age of a grandmother does in fact give me a different perspective on our mission. This is particularly true in view of climate change… Now, I feel the urgency for humanity to team up so the generation of our NatureBridge students and my four granddaughters will enjoy the same environmental safety and opportunities from yesteryears.
Ingrid Apter

Best of all, working alongside young educators and with the students offers even more Ingrid insight and opportunity for learning than the senior community classes she used to attend with friends.

“You know where I get my adult education?” she asked. “NatureBridge: science circle, social emotional learning and equity, inclusion and diversity. I don’t answer questions anymore, facilitating inquiries with the students and see what they provide. I am hugely grateful for the education that I get, and for the warmth of the community at NatureBridge.”

She plans to continue educating for as long as she can. Her best advice for the next generation comes from John Muir: “Into the woods you go, to lose your mind and find your soul.” 

And lastly, Ingrid’s hope for the future of women in the outdoors and science? “Go Greta Thunberg. And take us all with you.”

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