Each year the Soil and Water Conservation District recognizes a person or organization who, in the opinion of the District Board, has made an above average effort to promote conservation and wildlife during the past years. This award recognizes individuals or organizations for natural resource conserving practices and for their awareness of the need to conserve our natural resources.
The recipients of the 2019 Outstanding Conservationist Award are Ron and Kathy Black of Toledo. They both grew up on farms in Cumberland County and have always had an interest in conservation and ecology. Both attended Eastern Illinois University and attained a bachelor’s degree in botany. Each taught biology with a focus on conservation and ecology and feel both disciplines go hand in hand. Ron taught in Dieterich and Cumberland School Districts and Kathy taught in Lovington and Sullivan School Districts.
Ron and Kathy’s farm operation began in 1972 when Ron was in the army. He was stationed in Germany and served as a commanding officer of a platoon in a newly created NATO nuclear weapons unit. The German Air Force, which he worked with, provided housing for them. When Kathy returned home for a family emergency, she purchased 60 acres of land that overlooks the Embarras River northwest of Greenup. Only 18 acres of the purchase was tillable and the rest was in woodland. Upon returning to Illinois, they placed an Acres for Wildlife sign from the Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) at the entrance to the wooded portion of the property. This started their commitment to conservation practices. They initiated a timber management plan on the wooded property and enrolled the property in a forest stand improvement program with the assistance of the district conservationist and regional forester.
When Ron’s father Charles Black Sr. passed away, Ron and Kathy inherited 85 acres which included the homestead where they lived and where they started raising their family. A waterway ran through the property and they asked the Soil and Water District how to stop the waterway from eroding. The SWCD surveyed the waterway and assisted in constructing a structure to slow down the water and to establish a new grass waterway. Ron and Kathy left Cumberland County in 1988 for him to become a principal at Hartsburg-Emden High School where he supported the Agriculture Program. He then became superintendent at Lovington and Oakland and was a support of Lovington’s shared program with Sullivan and a supporter of Oakland’s program.
Upon their return to Cumberland County Ron and Kathy purchased 60 additional acres where they now live. There was erosion in the field and with the assistance of the SWCD, some barriers and grass waterways were established to control the erosion. Today, Ron and Kathy have around 108 acres in various CRP programs which include filter strips, the quail program and the pollinator program. They also have 17.4 acres of timber enrolled in the EQIP program for forest stand improvement and the elimination of invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle and multiflora rose. Ron has been active in the Lincoln Heritage Resource and Conservation Development (RC & D) program. He is the past chairman of the RC & D and now serves as the vice chairman. The RC & D is involved with many areas of conservation but focuses on controlled burns for the quail and pollinator programs, workshops for the pollinator programs, forestry workshops for the woodland program, and lately the reclamation of small dump sites.
Ron and Kathy have been married for over 51 years and will celebrate their 52nd anniversary in June. They have three children, Dawn, Dianna, and Adam. They have four grandchildren, T.J. Black, David Black, Hannah Kuhns and Nathan Kuhns. Ron’s interests include playing games and golf. He is currently a Cumberland County Board member and will be finishing his second term next year. Kathy’s interests include horseback riding, photography, and swimming. Last year, Ron and Kathy were volunteers helping assist people with taxes through the Cumberland County Life Center.
The Cumberland County Soil and Water Conservation District commends Ron and Kathy for their concern for natural resources and the work they are doing to help protect those resources.
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