Prairie State Protectors

Each month the Illinois Chapter recognizes a volunteer for their exceptional contribution to the work of the environment and the Sierra Club. Check out our Prairie State Protectors!


Prairie State Protector November 2023 - Monarch Team

This month's Prairie State Protector is all the hardworking volunteers on the monarch team fighting for our state's most iconic pollinator! The Monarch Team Co-chairs Linda Horn and Mike Skreiner work with members throughout the State to plan team activities and campaigns. Mike and Linda collaborate with volunteer leaders like Lonnie Morris, Terri Treacy, Jake Carman, Christine Favilla and many, many more to ensure our members are aware of opportunities to advocate for monarchs and all pollinators.

Thanks to the hard work of Sierra Club’s Monarch Team, our partners at the Illinois Environmental Council and NRDC, and pollinator enthusiasts across the state, Illinoisans can now purchase a monarch butterfly decal license plate! Illinois lawmakers passed legislation in 2016 that opened the doors for this project, and this year Illinois Secretary of State Alexi Giannoulias cut through bureaucratic red tape to finally bring the project to fruition. Funds from the decals, which were unveiled at a press conference on November 16, will directly support Illinois’ efforts to foster habitats that support butterflies’ migratory journey south to Mexico each fall. Whether by planting milkweed, organizing a community garden project, handing out pollinator-friendly plant seeds at tabling events, or advocating for legislation such as the Monarch decal bill (HB6182), Monarch Team members passionately work to protect habitat for the monarch butterfly and all pollinators. You can now purchase the long-awaited monarch decal at

IEC and Sierra Club celebrate monarch victory

Prairie State Protector October 2023 - Sara Yen

Sara first started working with Sierra Club as a leader at the Northwestern Undergraduate Energy Club (NUEC), where she spearheaded the organization’s efforts to get young people involved in electoral politics and public policy around environmental issues. Thanks to her efforts, Sierra Club was able to meet with more candidates for Chicago’s City Council, Illinois General Assembly, Cook County Board of Commissioners and U.S. House of Representatives than we have in any previous election cycle and ask more pressing questions so we can advance the movement for environmental justice through effective public policy at the city, county, state and federal levels.

Sara has also been able to put real power into Sierra Club’s endorsements and lobbying as she has become one of Sierra Club’s most reliable and dedicated volunteers in our work to hold a newly elected City Council and mayor accountable to the promises they made in this recent election cycle. Sara’s leadership with NUEC and Sierra Club has helped us push elected officials from City Council to the U.S. Congress to embrace an environmental policy agenda that is the urgent and comprehensive response we need to the climate crisis.

Thank you, Sara, for all your efforts so far to become a leader in the environmental movement and our Sierra Club Chapter. 

Sara Yen

Prairie State Protector September 2023 - Don Hanrahan

Don Hanrahan has worked with the Sangamon Valley Group off and on for many years, gaining an appreciation for their work on clean energy and environmental justice. He officially joined SVG this past year, and recently became political chair, because he believes that ensuring the presence of environmentally friendly elected officials is key to protecting the environment and addressing the climate crisis.

An ongoing battle that Don and SVG have been involved in is the costly, wasteful, and environmentally destructive Hunter Lake project in Springfield. He is helping to lead the effort of protecting 7500 acres and two streams from being destroyed. The fight rages on, with the Army Corps poised to green light the project based on what Don believes is flimsy evidence about the need for more water. City officials have also claimed Hunter Lake is needed for recreation, a claim that Don and SVG believe is false.

Don has over 40 years’ experience as a central Illinois attorney; 12 years with Legal Aid and 28 years in private practice. In his spare time, he enjoys gardening, beekeeping, and riding his motorcycle. 

Don Hanrahan in a forest

Prairie State Protector August 2023 - Dale Wojtkowski

For the past 23 years, Dale Wojtkowski has served as a volunteer and ExCom Chair with the Kaskaskia Group. Once he heard the quote from John Lubbock, “When we have done our best, we should await the result in peace”, he committed to doing everything possible to create a safer and more just world.  

One of his early battles for the Sierra Club was trying to prevent the construction of the Prairie State Power Plant in Marissa Illinois. Dale’s organizing efforts led to an agreement with the company that coal ash would never be stored in Washington County but would be transported to a strip mine in Randolph County. That agreement has not been honored and Dale says there is now a “mountain of coal ash” at the power plant.

Dale’s current focus is joining forces with the Metro Toxic Air Task Force to push back against the renewal permit for the Veolia incinerator in Sauget. That effort includes the Washington University in St. Louis School of Environmental Law as well as communities impacted by the toxic emissions that Veolia releases regularly.

Dale and his wife Virginia, also a Kaskaskia Group volunteer, have been married for 46-years and have an adult daughter. They are enthusiastic music lovers and spend a generous amount of their free time at concerts or enjoying regional activities.  They own an EV, a plug-in hybrid, and a 21-KWh solar panel array. Clearly Dale walks his talk.

Dale Wojtkowski

Prairie State Protector September 2023 - Emma Shafer

July’s Prairie State Protector is Emma Shafer, an extraordinary changemaker who the world lost last week. Emma Shafer was an activist, community organizer, and force for good not just in her hometown of Springfield, but across Illinois. 

Emma volunteered with the Sangamon Valley Group of Sierra Club, where she was recently appointed membership chair, and was also active with the Resistor Sisterhood, the Springfield Immigrant Advocacy Network, and numerous other political and community advocacy groups.

"To know Emma was to love her," Sangamon Valley Group Chair Nick Dodson says. "Emma was the kind of person that made you be the most authentic version of yourself. She made everything seem like a possibility—that the world could change tomorrow if we just kept trying."

Emma operated out of a planning-to-stay ethos, which she described as "considering generations to come in her daily decisions." Emma so embodied that ethos in her 24 years of life that she has indeed impacted generations to come. We will strive to emulate Emma's ethos in her honor.

To honor Emma's memory, please consider donating to the Emma Shafer Peace and Justice Fund through the Community Foundation of the Land of Lincoln. Together, we can all work to continue her missions: to create thriving communities, to embrace each other with kindness always, and to fill our spaces and times with love, laughter, arts, and music.

Emma Shafer

Prairie State Protector June 2023 - Alice Englebretsen

Alice Englebretsen has focused on protecting the planet for as long as she can remember and her passion for that work has only grown over the 40-years she has been a volunteer with Sierra Club.

Already an avid hiker and camper with her family on vacations in Colorado, Alice was initially attracted to the opportunity of serving as a National Outings Leader, a role she enthusiastically fulfilled for ten years. She joined the Prairie Group 20 years ago as newsletter editor, has served as Chair and Vice-Chair, and for the last ten years has been the group’s Political Chair. When asked about her commitment to the political work she said, “We can pull all of the garlic mustard we can find but if we don’t have strong policy to back up our conservation efforts, we won’t succeed in other areas. The electoral work is critical!”

Alice’s passion for protecting nature has included—among many issues—efforts to protect the Mahomet Aquifer from becoming a dumping ground for PCBs, as well as demanding that polluters clean up their toxic coal ash near the Middle Fork River. Now as an 81-year old with two children and five grandchildren, her strongest desire is to leave a habitable planet for her loved ones.

Alice Englebretsen

Prairie State Protector May 2023 - Alexandra Cope

Tragically on December 10th, 2021, a tornado tore through the Amazon Distribution Warehouse in Edwardsville, Illinois, killing six people, including 29-year-old Clayton Cope beloved son of Carla and Lynn Cope, and brother to Metro East environmental activist Alexandra Cope. Although federal inspectors told Amazon they met minimum federal safety standards, according to the OSHA report, there were three issues that "raised concerns about potential risks to employees during severe weather emergencies.”

The Cope family is honoring Clayton’s memory by advocating for upgraded building standards to withstand stronger storms related to climate change and have been staunch supporters and activists of SB2368, the Climate Resilient Building Codes Standards. Alex and her parents have been able to garner bipartisan support with their compelling testimonies. Alex addressed the Senate Committee hearing on the bill in March and gave a passionate plea at the Environmental Advocacy Day rally in Springfield in April. Her mother Carla addressed the House Executive Committee in early May and was instrumental in propelling the bill onto the floor for consideration of the General Assembly.

With a changing climate becoming more prevalent in our day-to-day lives, it has become necessary to modernize our building code standards to mitigate the worst impacts of natural disasters. Creating baseline structural standards will give us access to pre-disaster hazard mitigation funding. In addition, Illinois will continue to be overlooked for crucial federal dollars without these standards.

Alex served as Chair of the Metro East Green Alliance in 2014 and the Godfrey Energy Efficiency and Climate Protection Committee in 2016-17. She and her husband Jordan reside in the St. Louis Metro area.

Alexandra Cope

Prairie State Protector April 2023 - Nicole Magerko

This month we’re honoring Nicole Magerko, a volunteer with the Chicago Group, as our Prairie State Protector! Nicole became a Sierra Club member in 2019, and got especially involved in our Chicago election work. She helped interview candidates and decide on endorsements, and most importantly, was a key part of our field work! Nicole volunteered to lead weekly Sierra Club phone banks for Angela Clay, a Sierra Club-endorsed candidate for Alderperson in the 46th ward. This grassroots outreach paid off! Angela won election with 56% of the vote in the run-off, despite being out-fundraised by her opponent. Thank you Nicole for your leadership this election cycle! Now time to keep organizing, and use these wins to pass some strong environmental policies in City Council!


Prairie State Protector March 2023 - Dan DiMeo

This month’s Prairie State Protector is Dan Dimeo, a volunteer with the Chicago Group. Dan has gone above and beyond in helping the Chicago Group with municipal elections, from participating in numerous endorsement interviews, to running weekly phone banks for our endorsed candidates. Dan’s passion for the natural world started young. He remembers when his grade school handed out evergreen tree saplings for Earth Day, and the joy of planting it in his yard and watching it grow. His passion for the natural world led him to double major in philosophy and environmental studies, and he became part of his college’s student environmental organization, where he advocated for improved environmental practices.

Dan interned with the Sierra Club in the summer of 2008, where he got a glimpse of Sierra Club’s advocacy work. Some of his highlights in working with the Sierra Club include advocating for Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and helping pass the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act in coalition with organizations across the state. Dan’s work on the Chicago election has been substantial. The weekly phone banks he held for his Alderperson Rosanna Rodriguez, helped her win in the February 28 election. Now as we gear up for the run-off, he’s holding weekly phone banks for the mayoral race.

Dan DiMeo

Prairie State Protector February 2023 - Emmett Fruin

Emmett joined the Sierra Club in 2020 and got involved in the Chicago Water Team. He has been a regular meeting attendee and participates in educational events on water as well as beach and river clean ups. Recently, Emmett partnered with chapter staff and Advocates for Urban Agriculture, presenting on PFAS at the Chicago Food Justice Summit to help urban growers understand how these forever chemicals can get into water and food through fertilizers.

His concern for social justice developed while attending the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. After graduating, he taught high school math in Little Village for three years.  He transitioned to finance for a few years then to healthcare data where he has been now for eight years. Emmett is an ally in his organization's African Descendants social justice chapter, where he participates in meetings and volunteer activities.

Emmett’s passion for water is matched by his energy for equity in his current field of practice. When presenting a summary to his department, of a technology conference he attended, Emmett highlighted concerns about modern technology including clinician burnout and potential increases in inequality.

In his spare time he plays rec league sports, guitar and eats a mostly vegetarian diet.

Emmett says, “At first I would only go one day at a time without eating meat.  Now I usually go about a week or so eating only vegetarian food.  It's good for animals and for the planet!”

Photo of Emmett Fruin

Prairie State Protector January 2023 - Kristin Murphy

Our first Prairie State Protector of 2023 is Kristin Murphy! Kristin has been a Sierra Club member since 2021, but last year she stepped up to help Sierra Club's political work in Chicago for the Illinois General Assembly. 

Kristin is now leading endorsement sessions with candidates for Chicago's City Council and mayor. Thanks to her hard work, comforting demeanor and wealth of political knowledge, Sierra Club is ready to help elect environmental champions in every part of Chicago. 

In her work with Sierra Club and prior professional experience, Kristin has helped build coalitions among unlikely friends to strengthen the environmental movement. She knows that it will take all of us working side-by-side to create a society with clean air and clean water for all. 

Kristin, we are so grateful for your help and are excited to continue partnering together to build our movement for environmental justice in Chicago and across Illinois.

Kristin Murphy, wearing a red top

Prairie State Protector December 2022 - Linda Sullivan

Sierra Club Illinois is proud to present Linda Sullivan as our December Prairie State Protector! A Chicago native and current resident of Lombard, Linda has been a member since the 1990s when she first got involved with her students as an American history teacher. With the help of Director Jack Darin and the Respiratory Health Association, Linda and her students were able to present on the Dirty Diesel Truck bill to the Illinois Senate Transportation Committee. The bill passed, and not only did Linda provide an example of civic engagement in action to her students, but Sierra Club found one of its lifelong members and a rising star in political and legislative action. 

Since then, Linda has continued her work by serving on the River Prairie Group Executive Committee, the Illinois Chapter Executive Committee, and was a key player in the 2005 pilot program of the Chapter's Lobby Team. 

As our chapter ramps up to the legislative session in the New Year, many things have changed both for our organization, and for Linda since those early days of lobbying. Linda has three sons, and now two grandchildren! She retired from her influential work as a World and American History teacher and has dedicated much of her time to being a long-term Lobby, Political and Political Field Team chair for River Prairie Group. We look forward to continuing Sierra Club’s close relationships with lawmakers in 2023, thanks in large part to Linda’s work during this past mid-term election season. Nearly every weekend, Linda Sullivan could be found canvassing, calling, and recruiting friends to show up for environmental champions.

Linda Sullivan

Prairie State Protector November 2022 - Joyce Blumenshine

This month’s Prairie State Protector is Joyce Blumenshine who will be stepping down from her leadership of the Illinois Chapter’s Conservation Committee after a multi-decade tenure as chair.

Joyce started with the Sierra Club in 1977 and is a life member.  She’s worked in all our major campaign areas: habitat, clean energy and water. She’s been a mentor and a leader and is a determined, relentlessly optimistic, and caring person.

She helped to save a high-quality prairie, stop a pipeline and save natural areas from overuse. Two strip mines do not exist because of the tenacity of Joyce.

Verena Owen, the Chair of the Beyond Coal campaign offers the following remarks on Joyce:

Kind comes to mind when thinking of Joyce, kind but with a steely spine and a fighting spirit. You don't want to mess with her, even when she smiles at you politely. She is generous.  Helpful.  A great listener.  And a good friend. She can be your biggest cheerleader and she gives you honest feedback. Joyce works well with new or experienced volunteers or staff. Beyond being a champion for Sierra Club, she has been a champion for Illinois. She has been a great ambassador for Sierra Club and what we stand for at public hearings, meetings with officials, and other public facing events. Joyce has a deep knowledge of Sierra Club policies, internal structures and a long history with environmental issues in Illinois. She is equally able to look forward and see what lies ahead and what needs to be done as she is building on past experiences. Multi-talented, with a wonderful personality and a good head on her shoulders we were lucky to have her lead the ConCom for many years.


We all thank Joyce so very much for her exemplary service to the Sierra Club IL Chapter and the Conservation Committee which conducts the very essence of Sierra Club IL Chapter work.


Joyce Blumenshine tabling

Prairie State Protector October 2022 - Barbara Hill

Our October Prairie State Protector is the incomparable Barbara Hill! As the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Political Committee Chair, Barbara leads one of our most critical fall activities; engaging volunteers across the state for a truly member-led candidate endorsement process. Sierra Club Illinois is well known for our ‘boots on the ground’ style political action, and the very first step is through Barbara Hill and the impressive Chapter Political Committee she leads.

An Ohio native known for spending as much time out in the woods as indoors, Barbara got her first taste of environmental activism in 1992 Cook County. A halt on volunteer work in the Forest Preserves due to false information taught her a lesson that would shape how she approached preserving our lands for the rest of her life. If you want elected officials to make wise decisions for the good of the people, then you need to speak and engage with them. From there, Barbara blazed an impressive trail of leadership and activism. 

As a founding member and longest-serving board member of Friends of the Forest Preserves, Barbara saw them grow from a group meeting in living rooms around Cook County to a $3 million non-profit corporation. 

Barbara then became active with Sierra Club in 2000 when the Northwest Cook County Group arose from the ashes of the old Des Plaines Valley Group, immediately began service on their Executive Committee. A year later, the September 11th attacks called away their Political Chair and Barbara rose to the occasion to answer the needs of the group. Starting as a committee of 1, Barbara has grown the size of the group to an impressive half dozen core volunteers and 100 participants! 

In 2005, Barbara brought her political prowess to the Chapter Political Committee. In only two years Barbara rose as the Political Chair, and a year after that was elected to the Chapter Executive Committee. Now, serving as the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter Political Chair for an astounding 15 years (and counting!), Barb has built up the power of the Committee, and in turn the Chapter, exponentially. As any good political strategist will tell you, data doesn’t lie. All you have to do is look at the numbers to see the impact that Barbara Hill's leadership within the Chapter has made. In her tenure, the Committee went from endorsing 36 in the early years to a whopping 131 endorsements this cycle. 

It is this type of growth and power that moves policy makers across Illinois to give us a seat at the table, carry and vote for the legislation that has, and will continue to, put us on the map as one of the most environmentally progressive states in the county. Sierra Club Illinois is a political force to be reckoned with thanks to the electrifying leadership of Barbara Hill. 

Barbara Hill

Prairie State Protector September 2022 - Emily Cyr

This month’s Prairie State Protector is Emily Cyr! Emily joined Sierra Club Illinois as a volunteer in February, and has been a dedicated member of the Volunteer Communications Team ever since. Emily was inspired to get involved in the environmental movement after attending college in Florida, where she experienced extreme weather events, algal blooms, and rising water levels. 

In her short time volunteering with Sierra Club Illinois thus far, Emily has worked on projects to support local groups, co-led a training, and created dozens of social media posts and graphics for the chapter. Through her first volunteer project, Emily created a set of graphic templates that groups and issue campaigns can utilize on social media and in their external communications in order to increase brand awareness and cohesion across the state. Just last month, Emily co-facilitated a Social Media and Canva training for Sierra Club members and volunteers, where she taught activists how to use graphic design to improve their social media presence. Most recently, Emily has created social media and graphics for the chapter in support of our political program, to amplify our opposition to dirty gas in Illinois, and to celebrate Illinois Prairie Week. 

Emily brings energy and enthusiasm to her work with Sierra Club Illinois, and we’re proud to honor her commitment to protecting the Prairie State this month! 

Emily Cyr

Prairie State Protector August 2022 - Paul Culhane

This month’s Prairie State Protector is Paul Culhane, a long-time volunteer with the Northwest Cook County Group. We’re celebrating Paul for his years of service to the Sierra Club, and especially for the work he’s been doing this month organizing a town hall about the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act with his state legislators. Paul has streamlined communication between legislators’ offices and fellow volunteers, helped facilitate decision making on important event details, and will be helping present at the town hall itself.

Paul first started volunteering with the Sierra Club after meeting our Director, Jack Darin in 2005, at a gathering of environmental leaders. After finding out Paul was an academic focused on statistical analysis of interest groups, Jack suggested Paul join the Chapter’s Grassroots Lobby Committee. Paul joined, and has built lasting relationships with his legislators (as evidenced by the key role he’s playing organizing this town hall with them!) In addition to serving on the lobby team, Paul is the Northwest Cook Political Team Chair, on the Statewide Political Committee, on the Northwest Cook County ExCom, and a leader and co-founder of Cool Cities Arlington Heights. Of his work with the Sierra Club, he is most proud of the climate-related accomplishments, including helping pass the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, and the Future Energy Jobs Act. Having discussed global warming in academic settings since the early 80s, he’s glad he’s able to be part of moving forward real-world solutions.

Paul engages in environmental work outside of Sierra Club as well. He was on the board of the Des Plaines Watershed Alliance from 2001-06 and the Upper Des Plaines River Ecosystem Partnership from 2007-14. He is also Director Emeritus for the Alliance of the Great Lakes, having been a member of their board most years from 1981 to 2018.

Paul Culhane

Prairie State Protector July 2022 - Jeff Shelden

Our Prairie State Protector for July is Jeff Shelden! There are so many reasons why we would like to honor Jeff this month. He served on the Chicago Group Executive Committee from 2016 until the end of 2021, providing the Chicago group with invaluable leadership. 

In addition, Jeff continues to run the Chicago Clean Water Team with great dedication. You do not need to spend much time with Jeff to see how his leadership is rooted in connecting community and environment. When asked about his proudest moments as part of the Club, he cited everything from World Water Day celebrations, to kickstarting the Chicago Community Science Sampling Program, to rallies such as the Womens and Climate Marches. His favorite memory so far though, was the Montrose Beach Clean Up attended by 300 people a few years ago.

We also want to honor the work Jeff does more behind the scenes, including monitoring permits with other folks in the Chicago Water Team, providing essential support in making the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District endorsements, organizing educational water events/guest speaker events in Chicago, and more.

During the course of his time with Sierra Club, Jeff channeled his passion and skills into a career in the environmental world. He's been working for the Illinois Environmental Council since 2019, and recently became their Deputy Director.

Please join us this month in celebrating all of Jeff’s work he has done for his community and the Club! Also check out the Chicago Water Team’s blog to see more about their sampling efforts.


Prairie State Protector June 2022 - Joyce Harrant

Joyce Harant is a volunteer for the Sierra Club Heart of Illinois Group who gives her all for clean energy and a healthy environment. Joyce has been a Sierra Club member since 1997 and she has many area and regional environmental battles to her credit.

Most recently Joyce spoke at an Ameren rally in Peoria, demanding that Ameren do everything possible to help its customers find ways to manage rate hikes that are hitting downstate households this month. When Ameren announced last fall their plan to end net metering, Joyce advocated for an assessment on Ameren's claims. Ultimately, Ameren was required to back off on planned cuts and restore net metering.

Joyce has a background in healthcare and her leadership skills have been a huge asset to the Heart of Illinois Group's efforts. She was a key volunteer in the local efforts designing, planning, and activating a process for the $8.6 million Edwards coal plant pollution mitigation funds.
Joyce contributes to a variety of groups and issues, from environmental justice and equity to increasing local solar. In addition, she serves as a locally elected Park District Trustee and is on the board of organizations that foster community inclusion and maximizing opportunities for those with neural diversity challenges.


Prairie State Protector May 2022 - Bob Gill

The sudden death of Bob Gill on Friday, April 29 has shocked and saddened friends, family and colleagues in the Metro East and throughout the state.

Bob showed up fully for life with a camera in hand. He was a true renaissance man; artist, musician, environmentalist and local historian. He could always be counted on to photo document life around him whether at a lobby visit, community event or a hike with trusty hound Dash. His Facebook page serves as a memorial story of his life well lived.

Illinois Chapter Director Jack Darin extoleded Bob's service to the state legislative team " Bob always arrived a day early for the state legislative training to help with set up and stayed after to help break down."

Jen Walling, Executive Director of the Illinois Environmental Councial was saddened by the news and commented:

When it came to state lobbying, I could always count on Bob Gill to be a consistent presence lobbying his lawmakers and taking excellent photographs of the event. Even when his state lawmakers weren't always on board with environmental issues, Bob Gill was well liked, charming, and influential to his local decisionmakers, always kind and positive about what our policies could accomplish. During the pandemic, he was a regular on zoom learning events, even though I know he was already an expert on all things environment. I have always been so grateful for his support and leadership and at IEC, we are devastated by his loss, which is truly a loss for our entire movement.

“It never failed to bring me joy to see and hear Bob leading a drum circle, playing harmonica, presenting on the history of the Mississippi River or speaking truth to power! There will never be another to match his multitude of talent and interest or the magnitude of his kind and generous heart” said Three River Project Co-Coordinator Virginia Woulfe-Beile. 

Please consider a donation to two organizations dear to him. and


Prairie State Protector March 2022 - Karen Sandefur

This month, we’re proud to honor Karen Sandefur of the Kaskaskia Group as our Prairie State Protector.

Karen Sandefur joined the Kaskaskia Group in 2019 and became deeply involved with the effort to pass the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA). She helped organize and participated in Listen Lead Share events with Sierra Club and United Congregations of Metro East. She also helped gather petitions and drive calls into legislators and hosted educational events on CEJA.

Karen enthusiastically participates in any and every project designed to protect pollinators. Karen even dresses up as a bee when the Kaskaskia Group hosts a table at the Belleville Farmers Market! She assists with the development and maintenance of the group’s Pollinator Garden in Belleville, participates in the Illinois Monarch Project, and contributes to various other community gardens in East St. Louis.

Karen recently started a project to plant sunflowers in areas where soil tests show signs of toxins, to help detoxify the soil for future fruit and nut trees, or for gardens.Toxic soil is a huge challenge facing communities along the Mississippi River.

For the last two years, Kaskaskia Group has honored Black History Month by organizing the Blooming Minds Book Drive and Karen has been a key participant. The book drive is a joint effort with Terrance and Stephanie Taylor of Community Development Sustainable Solutions (CDSS). CDSS has developed a Parent Mentor program in twelve elementary schools that are part of Districts 187 and 189, and has helped Karen and other Kaskaskia volunteers to connect with some of the districts’ most underserved schools. This year the group will donate nearly 200 new and/or gently used books!

Karen’s work includes efforts outside of Sierra Club as well. She is one of the first to volunteer for community cleanup events in East St. Louis which includes picking up trash and clearing overgrowth and built-up dirt along streets and sidewalks. Karen says it clears paths for pedestrians and lifts the spirit and morale of nearby residents.

Karen says it is her faith in God that drives her to be a good steward of the earth and to aid in efforts that uplift and empower the vulnerable and underserved. She credits her faith for opening up opportunities to connect with numerous organizations in activities that shine a light on inequities, and work toward remedies.


Prairie State Protector April 2022 - Janice Gintzler

Janice Gintzler is a long-time Sierra Club member who enthusiastically supports grassroots environmental justice advocacy. Janice joins events like lobby day and phone banks to share priority legislation with both elected officials and our membership. Janice recently participated in the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) public meeting on beneficial electrification where she advocated that the ICC ensure CEJA electrification money is equitably invested in a way that reduces dangerous diesel pollution. Locally, Janice supports workers advocating for just working conditions by attending rallies. Protecting the environment while appreciating nature, Janice picks up litter in the Cook County Forest Preserves on her daily walks. In addition to Sierra Club, Janice is a member of Chicago Divest from War, South Siders for Peace, and United Women in Faith. Janice was a high school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools and is using her time in retirement to advocate for social justice.


Prairie State Protector February 2022 - Kady McFadden

This month we salute Kady McFadden, our outgoing Deputy Director. Since 2015, Kady has been at the heart of our work to build a more powerful, equitable, and inclusive Sierra Club and environmental movement.  She has led our political program that helped elect environmental champions to local, state, and federal office, and built a statewide team of volunteer leaders that evaluate candidates and work hard to elect those who share our values. 
Illinois is cleaner, greener, and now a bold climate leader thanks to Kady's leadership.  She played a critical part in passing the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act, organizing communities suffering from coal plant pollution and environmental racism, and supporting emerging environmental leaders in both our grassroots movement and elected office who will continue to fight for a better future for many years to come.
We wish Kady all the best in her future work for a better world. We are forever grateful for the bold leadership, strategic insight, and tireless effort she poured into our work to protect the Prairie State.  She helped build a stronger Sierra Club ready to meet the urgent challenges of our time with power and passion. Thank you Kady!

Prairie State Protector January 2022 - Chris Pinc

This month, we would like to honor Chris Pinc as our Prairie State Protector! He joined the Sierra Club to fight for the Climate and Equitable Jobs Act (CEJA) and cares passionately about creating a carbon-free future for us all. From CEJA phone banks, to rallies in Springfield, to in-district lobby visits with his legislators, Chris amplified the grassroots power that led to our CEJA victory. After spending a season as a member of our statewide volunteer Lobby Team, Chris agreed to be the new State Lobby Team Chair for 2022!

Though he’s relatively new to the environmental movement, he’s not new to volunteering or to issues of economic and social justice. Earlier in his life he worked for two years as a full-time volunteer with a non-profit in Nicaragua that advocates for policy reform aimed at reducing poverty. He also worked for two years in Bolivia with the United Nations Development Program where he led research that advocated for improvements in human development.

His consideration, dedication, willingness to try new ideas, and attention to detail are just a few of the many characteristics that make him a fantastic leader on this team and in our organization. We’re so happy to have him and can’t wait to see what we’re able to accomplish together!


Prairie State Protector December 2021 - Jake Carman

Jake Carman is a dedicated member of the Sangamon Group ExCom, and has been active with the Illinois Sierra Club since 2017 when he lived in DuPage County. He became very active in our ultimately successful efforts to pass comprehensive statewide climate legislation. He collected petitions at farmers markets, wrote letters to politicians, went down to Springfield for environmental lobby days, and more. 

In 2020, Jake worked for us as an electoral organizer, embedded in Barbara Hernandez’s campaign for State Representative. Jake organized a kick-off meeting, helped volunteers plug-in to the work, canvassed, and phone banked. Barbara won that election, and has been a key climate champion in the State House.

The summer of 2020, Jake moved to Springfield, Illinois, and has provided valuable leadership there. He sits on the Sangamon Valley Group ExCom, helped facilitate the planting of a monarch garden at the school where he teaches, handed out monarch friendly seeds at the farmers market, continued to advocate for state climate legislation, and recently has become very involved in the effort to defeat the Emberclear Gas plant– testifying to the Illinois EPA against the permit, and recruiting others to get involved. 

Jake shares that he was first motivated to join the Sierra Club because of the impact of the Trump administration on the country and the environment, because of the existential threat that climate change poses to humanity, and because of the ongoing impact that environmental injustice has on communities all across the globe. He has remained involved because of the camaraderie he enjoys with fellow volunteers and staff, and because the impact we can make together is far greater than the impact we can make by ourselves. As Jake clearly states: “No one can lift it all alone.”


Prairie State Protector November 2021 - Nick Dodson

Nick Dodson has lived in Springfield for the past 13-years and has been active with the Sangamon Valley Group since 2019. Recent work with SVG includes alerting & organizing community members in Springfield and the surrounding area about plans by a corporation out of Texas to construct a massive gas plant in the small community of Pawnee. Nick says it’s the wrong direction during the clear end of the Fossil Fuel Era. The plant will release the equivalent of 3.9 million tons of CO2 into the environment every year, plus another 3.4 million tons of upstream emissions. What shocked him most were the city & county zoning officials that allowed this to be located near the center of town and the local school.

Nick also led the effort to hold City Water Light and Power (CWLP) accountable last summer when the coal-fired plant experienced a dangerous and unexpected release of coal fly ash. Especially concerning to him was the City of Springfield’s decision not to activate the city-wide alert system to notify citizens of the danger. Coal ash is considered an environmental hazard worldwide, since it can contain toxic metals and dangerous constituents like lead, mercury, and arsenic. Nick was quoted in several news articles demanding a higher level of accountability not only from the coal plant operators but also from city leaders.

When he is not involved in protecting the environment and the people impacted by air and water pollution, he is looking to assist housing insecure or unhoused men to find shelter and the services they need to live a safe and stable life. As a Housing Navigator with Helping Hands of Springfield, Nick educates around the principles of Housing First—the idea that humans require access to housing and should not be expected to prove they are “ready” before it is made available to them.


Prairie State Protector October 2021 - Bill Koehl

Bill is a contributing member of the Valley of the Fox Group and serves on the Executive Committee as their treasurer. He has helped with political work, from the endorsement process, to active door-to-door campaigning, as well as volunteering on the lobby and political field teams. Bill worked on Congresswoman Lauren Underwood’s campaigns since her first run in 2018, and has also worked on behalf of various state legislators.

Bill is our Prairie State Protector this month because of his dedicated work around the Prairie State Coal Plant. Connie Schmidt, co-chair of the IL Chapter Clean Energy and Transportation team said, “When Prairie State’s municipal contracts threatened the advancement of CEJA, Bill jumped in to the fray with both feet, treating it as a full time job. He was able to research and interpret the complex issue to residents of the communities impacted by the contracts. I honestly think that legislators along the Fox Valley corridor were put at ease in some ways because of Bill’s clear explanation of Prairie State within the new legislation.”

Bill’s explains in his own words why he is involved with Sierra Club. “I came out of retirement to become a climate activist. I want to help in the work to fight for clean air and water and appreciate the values that are at the core of Sierra Club. I especially like that we are centering our key principles of equity, justice and inclusion in every aspect of our work."

He lives in Geneva with his daughter, son-in-law and 3 grandchildren and notes that he missed out on opportunities to attend his 11-year old grandson’s baseball games this summer due to his efforts to fight for a livable world on his grandchildren’s behalf.


Prairie State Protector September 2021 - Tracy Fox

On the heels of our CEJA victory, we are delighted to honor one of the most dedicated and relentless advocates we know, Tracy Fox of Chillicothe. Tracy served as a member of the Steering Committee of the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, helping to set strategy and ground our energy legislation work in principles of equity and justice, while not forgetting downstate communities who have been burdened by pollution. Tracy spent many long nights and early mornings pouring over legislation drafts and providing red line edits on very short deadlines to ensure the CEJA legislation text matched our lofty goal of building an equitable, clean energy economy.

Tracy Fox is a fierce advocate who also is an organizer in her own community. She was a founding member of CIHCA (Central Illinois Healthy Community Alliance), that was formed to retire the Edwards coal plant. This campaign ultimately won a phase out of the coal plant that also included money for community organizations to implement programs for a cleaner future.

Tracy works diligently on conservation issues as well. She helped found Friends of Rocky Glenn, worked extensively on the committee that saved Plum Island across from Starved Rock from development, was a key activist in efforts to stop expansion of a local hazardous waste landfill and helped challenge a new municipal waste landfill to reduce the size and obtain essential protections. She is an avid birder and past member of the local Audubon board, and is an active board member of the only fair-trade volunteer-run gift shop in the Peoria area.

We are all indebted to Tracy's activism - thank you Tracy for never giving up the fight for a brighter future, for electing and then pushing legislators to do what is right, and for proving to us all that one person really can make a difference.


Prairie State Protector August 2021 - Steven Hall

This month, we would like to honor Steven Hall for his work in his community following the Chemtool explosion in Rockton. A few months ago, there was a horrific fire at a chemical plant in northern Illinois that was extinguished with carcinogenic PFAS fire fighting foam.

Many Rockton residents were looking for answers to vital public health and safety questions in the aftermath of the crisis. Steven Hall stepped up to help provide guidance to his community when there was little to none. He spoke about the threat of PFAS (toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) at the first community meeting following the fire. He showed up to daily meetings with Sierra Club toxics experts and organizers to help assess on the ground needs. He collected samples from the local waterways when there were gaps in data that needed to be filled. He spoke to the press in order to raise awareness. He provided testimony at an EPA hearing where they were reassessing rules that could prevent disasters like the one in Rockton in the future. These are only a few of the countless ways Steven advocated for his community.

It is common to wonder how you would respond in an emergency, and Steven absolutely showed up in ways that were nothing short of heroic. He is more than deserving of this honor and recognition. We hope you’ll join us in lifting him up this month.


Prairie State Protector July 2021 - Dulce Ortiz

Dulce Ortiz is a tireless, passionate and fearless voice for her community of Waukegan and communities across this country who have been disproportionately affected by environmental injustice and racism. Dulce has been a leading voice for clean air, clean water, and healthy soil since 2013. She has testified before Congressional Committees about the dangers of coal ash, lobbied her state and local officials , and was featured in the Years of Living Dangerously episode about her local coal plant fight. With the announced closure of the NRG coal plant in Waukegan this month, we are proud to honor Dulce as our Prairie State Protector of the Month. Dulce serves on the Woods and Wetlands Sierra Club excom, and is the co-chair of partner organization Clean Power Lake County. She also is the executive director of Mano a Mano, which empowers immigrants to become full participants in their community. Governor JB Pritzker appointed her to the Illinois Commission on Environmental Justice, which will advise state entities and the Governor on environmental justice and related community issues. Thank you to Dulce for your fierce and loving activism, and congratulations on a big step forward this month. 


Prairie State Protector June 2021 - Sia Shetkar

Over the past three months, high school student and environmental activist Sia Shetkar has called hundreds of constituents across Illinois to mobilize them to take action in support of strong climate legislation. Sia began volunteering with the Sierra Club every week in April to support our efforts to call constituents in key districts about the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). Through her work, she has mobilized constituents across the state to urge their legislators to support comprehensive climate and energy legislation. In addition, she has taken the initiative to recruit other volunteers to join these mobilization efforts and has motivated fellow volunteers at phone banking events by sharing her story of self.

The news broke last week that, despite being on the precipice of passing a comprehensive climate and equity deal, fossil fuel companies tried to kill the bill and the legislation is stalled in the General Assembly. During a conversation with volunteers on the delayed status of the legislation, Sia responded, “Okay, when’s the next phonebank?” Sia’s energy and positivity shine through each Zoom call, and her unwavering dedication to fighting for a fossil free future reminds us all that we can and must continue the fight.


Prairie State Protector May 2021 - Scott Allen

Anyone who has attended a CEJA-related meeting in the past two years has seen Scott Allen in action. He is in on the steering committee and negotiating team for the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition (ICJC), is part of the Downstate Caucus Leadership team and serves on the ICJC Climate Table Coordinating Team. When Scott sees a need, he never hesitates to put himself forward.

Scott has lived in Urbana for the last year. Prior to moving to Urbana, he lived in Springfield, where he joined Sierra Club, Sangamon Valley Group's Executive Committee, serving as the group's treasurer. As a Sierra Club representative, Scott participated in local and Congressional electoral efforts, a push to open Sangamon County for renewable energy development, and the Sierra Club-led process to close down CWLP's coal generation.  

Scott got his start in the environmental field as a University of Illinois, Springfield graduate student interning at the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency from 2008 to 2010. In 2014, he went to work for the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) as an Environmental Outreach Coordinator, focusing on downstate consumer advocacy issues. In 2017, through CUB, Scott got involved with the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, and the Coalition's Downstate Caucus, working to develop and pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). 

In collaboration with Sierra Club volunteers and staff, the last few months have been intensely focused on passing comprehensive energy and climate legislation through the Illinois General Assembly. Illinois is at the precipice of passing some of the most aggressive and racially equitable climate change mitigation, and utility reform legislation in the country. Illinois has an opportunity to set a precedent for states to act, but none of this would be possible without the relentless efforts of people like Scott, and other climate and justice activists across the state.


Prairie State Protector April 2021 - Kyra Woods

Over the last 3 and a half years, Kyra Woods built Sierra Club’s Ready For 100 (RF100) campaign from the ground up. She organized a diverse coalition of community members and stakeholders to advocate for Chicago’s transition to 100 percent clean energy. First as a clean energy apprentice, then as a RF100 organizer and coordinator, and lastly as a Clean Energy advocate.

Kyra first and foremost prioritized equity while advocating for RF100Chi’s priorities- she understood that fighting against climate change meant fighting for justice for all impacted communities. This is why her work was not only powerful, but effective. Kyra lived and breathed these values while organizing the RF100Chi campaign and continues to do so in her new role as a climate policy advisor with Chicago’s chief sustainability officer, Angela Tovar.

We are so excited to see Kyra grow in her career- we know that she will be fighting for justice every step of the way.


Prairie State Protector March 2021 - Verena Owen


This month we’re honoring Verena Owen of Winthrop Harbor as our Prairie State Protector. Verena wears many different hats. She’s the Volunteer Co-lead for Sierra Club’s National Beyond Coal Campaign, but also is working hard to make an impact right here in Illinois and in her home of Lake County. 


To date, the Beyond Coal Campaign has retired 339 coal plants, and stopped 191 plants from being built. But this all started with Verena’s persistence, knowledge of the permit process, and her organizing skills. You can read more about Verena Owen’s war against coal in this article.


Currently, Verena is active monitoring new gas plants across the state, assists groups with coal plant air permits and public hearings, serves on the Illinois Chapter Conservation Voting Committee, works extensively with the Chapter Lobby Team and her Woods and Wetlands Group legislative and election efforts, and advocates for volunteers on National Sierra committees. She is working with formation of a new Chapter Federal Action Campaign Team to bring more attention to Congressional issues.The Woods and Wetlands Group Verena Owen Environmental Fellows Program was named in her honor to provide grants for youth to attend Sierra Sprog training focusing on leadership to enjoy and protect our planet. In addition, she has managed a busy household with four sons, takes on extended dog-sitting for family members, and is keeping track of two new grandkids.


Prairie State Protector February 2021 - Virginia Wojtkowski

Virginia Wojtkowski has been a Sierra Club member for the last 20-years, along with her husband Dale, who is the current Chair of the Kaskaskia Group ExCom.

Virginia says she realized the benefit of joining Sierra Club in 2001 when a power plant began to plan and build a campus about a mile from their home. Though she was a full-time teacher and unable to be as active as she wished, she fully realized that when she did engage, she was participating in history.

The Kaskaskia Group newsletter is Virginia’s labor of love. She collects articles of interest, fact-checks their veracity, and always produces a publication packed with helpful information and opportunities for others to engage. She also curates the group’s Instagram page which regularly gains followers, and is the first to volunteer to apply for a grant if a need arises. That has allowed the group to develop and expand a pollinator garden in Stookey Park in Belleville. She also serves as the group’s treasurer.

Virginia says that being part of the Sierra Club has given her a chance to do many things she has always loved and wanted to do but never quite had the time. Since retiring in 2018 she says Sierra Club is her “second act”. It has given her the opportunity to be an integral part of something important, and she says there is no way to measure the new friendships that have come her way.

In her spare time she enjoys cooking, baking, gardening and is currently pursuing a small business certification. The Sierra Club Kaskaskia Group is fortunate to have such a creative and committed volunteer!


Prairie State Protector January 2021 - Cindy Skrukrud

For over 20-years, Cindy Skrukrud has worked to protect the waters of Illinois through building key relationships and educating others. Cindy joined the Illinois Chapter as a consultant in 1999 then came onboard as Clean Water Advocate in 2001. She realized early on that for Illinois to make progress toward cleaner and safer water, it would require various agencies and sectors who were initially wary of each other, to come together and focus on a common goal. She developed and nurtured those relationships and over time has become one of the most respected voices in water work, not only in Illinois, but throughout the Midwest.

She thrives on working with Sierra Club groups to support their goals in improving and protecting their own watersheds and is especially proud of being involved in efforts to establish new wildlife refuges in the northern part of the state.

Cindy’s other interests include cats, fused glass work, and Illinois’ mussels! She proudly declares them her favorite animal and encourages others to learn about what an important indicator species they are. She notes they are also among the most endangered animals and that consistent work toward cleaning up their habitat is vital.

The Illinois Chapter wishes Cindy all the best, and we know we’ll continue seeing her, whenever there is a water issue that requires her expertise or hands-on labor. We’ll end by sharing her favorite quote:
“Water is the most critical resource issue of our lifetime and our children's lifetime. The health of our waters is the principal measure of how we live on the land.” Luna Leopold, Hydrologist
Thank you Cindy for two-decades of dedicated progress and for your friendship!


Prairie State Protector December 2020 - Public Health Protectors

2020 has been an extraordinarily difficult and historically significant year. Through it all, we would like to recognize those who have helped protect their communities and slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.  Social distancing, quarantining, and wearing a mask for most of a calendar year is no small feat; and for that we would like to acknowledge, honor and offer our gratitude to those who protected the people around them by changing the way they navigate the world. That is, by taking all of this seriously and physically distancing themselves from those they love, in order to protect them.

Furthermore, there are those of us who may not have had the luxury of voluntarily social distancing due to the nature of our role in society or out of sheer economic necessity. And we salute them as well, as a component of protecting one's community is doing one’s part to ensure its functioning, that its needs are met, that those services — essential and otherwise — which we have become so accustomed to enjoying are still available, even amidst an unfolding global pandemic. It is no overstatement to say that many of us would not have made it through this year without you. Thank you. 

We all have our own unique investments in flattening the curve, and it is with great pain that we acknowledge that those efforts did not always work. So many of us have lost so much.

But we keep on. 

This year may have physically separated each of us from one another, but it has also created a situation in which your commitment to your communities, your neighbors, humankind, and to life itself could be further demonstrated and practiced. The real protectors in the year of 2020 were those who did what they had to do to protect themselves and those around them — those who socially distanced and those who simply could not — and those who continued to do vital conservation, equity and social justice work so that when all of this passes we can find each other stronger and closer than ever as we persevere down the long and winding road of protecting our planet and securing a life of dignity for all that inhabit it. 


Prairie State Protector November 2020 - Jeff and Bonnie Gahris

This month, we would like to celebrate long time Sierra Club leaders Jeff and Bonnie Gahris. Firstly, congratulations are in order as Jeff was recently elected as a commissioner to the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County! These two are absolutely invaluable leaders in our organization. Their dedication to combating climate change in their community and more broadly is unwavering. Individually, they bring irreplaceable skills and talents to the table, but they are an even stronger team together.

What’s truly astounding is that in the midst of their own campaign for Forest Preserve Commissioner, they still consistently showed up and volunteered for other races in their community. Bonnie and Jeff would be frequently seen campaigning for Sierra Club champions Sean Casten or Terra Costa Howard. This is a testament to how much they value the movement building environmentalism needs to succeed. We are lucky to have you both as part of this community. Thanks so much for your work!


Prairie State Protector October 2020 - David Teeghman

Over the past five years, David Teeghman can always be counted on to bring joy, inspiration, passion, and fun to his Sierra Club leadership.  Currently, he is the lead of Sierra Club's field efforts in support of the critical Fair Tax amendment, leading weekly phone banks to our members educating them about the issue and representing Sierra Club at the Yes to Fair Tax coalition. A fierce advocate for climate justice, David also fights tirelessly for social justice, racial justice and equity.  His skills include phone banking and text banking at the same time for efforts he is passionate about. And remember, the best way to celebrate David is to join one of his phonebanks and to Vote YES on the Fair Tax amendment.


Prairie State Protector September 2020 - Toni Oplt

After living on this Earth for over six decades, Toni came to see herself as having always been a child of the woods, from sneaking off to forbidden creeks and tangled groves of trees as a child, to making yearly trips with her husband to a friends’ cabin in the Adirondacks for some time with nature and away from human life.

Toni’s zest for clean living is evident and she puts her positive energy to work in numerous capacities, including the Sierra Club. When Toni’s not organizing and taking a leading role in numerous regional committees, like the Piasa Palisades Group’s popular Speaker’s Series, the Metro East Green Alliance, The Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition, Youth Town Halls, the Climate Table, and Anti-Racism discussions, you might find her on the Green Gal of the Midwest posting scrumptious, healthy, local recipes! Once we can get back to in-person meetings, you might be please to discover a slice of homemade pumpkin pie or a bowl of protein-packed vegan chili sitting next to your agenda. Taking the role of regional Lobby Day Captain, staying abreast of all clean energy issues, and baking incredible cookies to eat on the Lobby Day bus, is just what Toni does. And she does it enthusiastically and thoroughly!

Toni says Sierra Club has been an important part of her journey offering both focus and tools to do the work. Being part of Sierra Club has helped Toni take her personal journey and make it a universal one.


Prairie State Protector August 2020 - Jay Futterman

Jay Futterman is a volunteer with initiative! Over the past couple of years he has demonstrated a steadfast conviction to protecting the climate by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, empowering local communities to advance solar projects in their areas and educating folks on the benefits of electric vehicles.

Jay was born and raised in the Chicago area and currently lives in Highland Park with his wife and two sons, where he serves on the City of Highland Park Sustainability Advisory Group and also works with the local chapter of GoGreen. His day job is as an ophthalmologist.

With his eye set on the prize, Jay is committed to passing the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA) and has taken up all sorts of projects and campaigns to supplement his climate advocacy as CEJA winds its way through the legislative process. Jay enjoys community outreach to help get people to go-solar and works with municipalities to help pass more efficient national building codes. Jay is also an active member of the Woods & Wetlands Conservation Committee, where he collaborates with other Lake County volunteers to advance the status of the Group’s various regional campaigns.

As far as the outdoors go, Jay is big on adventure races — 6-12 hour events that combine kayaking, biking and navigating in the woods with a compass. He says it's a mental and physical challenge and a great way to spend a day outdoors with friends. All and all we look forward to working more with Jay and continue alongside him on the path towards clean energy. Thanks, Jay!


Prairie State Protector July 2020 - Andy Daglas

Andy Daglas (they/them) is a member of our Chicago Group Executive Committee and is a brilliant addition to our work in Illinois. They edit the Chicago Group newsletter, the Wild Onion, and manage the Chicago group’s social media. Whether speaking at hearings, drafting social media posts, working with volunteers to write public comments, or polishing press releases, Andy’s contributions to the Chapter’s communications work has been phenomenal. 

Andy also pushes the Chicago Group and greater Illinois Chapter to live our values of mutuality and solidarity. They are a passionate advocate for environmental justice and work to build authentic and meaningful relationships with community groups fighting to protect their rights to safe and healthy communities. We are grateful for Andy’s support of our work with the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, Southeast Environmental Task Force and the Southwest Environmental Alliance. They help raise opportunities where Sierra Club can lend a voice or resources, follow-up with staff and volunteer leaders to check-in about these opportunities, and lend their help when help is needed. 

Outside of their work with Sierra Club, they’re also active with ONE Northside, a social justice community organization in Chicago. 

Thank you Andy for your hard work for the Sierra Club!


Prairie State Protector May 2020 - Sandy Loftus

As a member of the Sierra Club Kaskaskia Group, Sandy serves as a citizen lobbyist and has invested hours of her time working on behalf of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. She has helped with business canvassing, petition drives and participated in Listen Lead Shares in the Metro East. Sandy also attends Clean Energy Lobby Days in Springfield whenever she can. Sandy is the kind of volunteer that always says YES! During the COVID crisis, she's been working to create masks for members of her community. Thank you Sandy for fighting for our planet and public health!

Sandy first became acquainted with Sierra Club when she was living in Columbus and attending The Ohio State University. In 1993, she spent one summer walking door to door advocating for Sierra Club, and knew then that she wanted to join Sierra Club and become an active part of their mission after she retired.

Sandy considers herself a life-long learner of science in particular. She was 12 years old when she knew she wanted to become a medical laboratory technician, which she accomplished. For 18 years, she sat behind a microscope, crossmatched blood, identified microorganisms, performed blood chemistries and learned the intricacies of disease processes. When the opportunity presented itself, she was able to go back to school to accomplish her next goal: to teach science. It was during her time at The Ohio State University that she earned a scholarship that paid for her last year of school. She graduated and took a job that summer at OSU teaching science to inner city youth and continued that path until she retired from East St. Louis School District 189 in 2013.

Recently, she’s been making masks to help people protect themselves against COVID-19. When hospitals began asking the public to make quilt cotton masks for the community, it was an easy decision for her to join in and help her neighbors. She has a personal goal to make and donate 1000 masks to anyone who may ask for them. She is not the only individual in the area who is making masks, but is part of a bigger network that is communicating and keeping abreast of where the need may arise. They have worked as a group contributing to a local community center and a hospital, and as individuals making masks for family and friends.


Prairie State Protector March 2020 - Linda Cole

Linda Cole is truly an amazing force for good! She first came to the Sierra Club through Fran Caffee who got Linda involved in the Valley of the Fox’s Water Sentinels program. Fran soon noticed Linda’s interest in politics and she quickly became her group’s Political Chair, spearheading the endorsement process across Kane and Kendall Counties. Now, Linda sits on the Chapter Political Team as well.

Barb Hill, the Chair of the Chapter Political Team said, “Linda is a real asset to the Chapter Political committee because she has long experience, many, many community connections and a clear head. She researches material thoroughly and comes up with the most amazing questions.”

In addition, Linda has been on the Lobby Team since its founding. She’s helped advocate for the environment by visiting her state legislators and introducing newbies to this important work.

Linda spent her working career as a nurse, and when she retired, she worked at a free clinic. Linda has also volunteered heavily for the City of Aurora as an elected Fox Valley Park District commissioner for 20 years and as an appointed member to the Aurora Planning Commission for 30 years.

Linda’s contribution to the community is now immortalized in the name of the newly renovated, environmentally-friendly Park District Administrative Center: The Linda Cole Building.

When asked about her volunteer roles, Linda said, “They all seem to blend together. I care about improving people’s quality of life. Clean air, water and outdoor recreation should be available to all ages, young and old and disabled.”

We thank Linda for making an impact in all the areas she is involved.


Prairie State Protector February 2020 - Sangamon Valley Group

The Sangamon Valley Group of the Sierra Club has been working to hold Springfield's public utility City Water, Light and Power accountable for their coal plant pollution and the cost of running a plant that has been bleeding money for years. In early February, Springfield's City Council voted to retire their three oldest coal units. This will bring over 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide per year offline!

This was a long campaign, that took lots of dedication, patience, and relationship building. Along the way, so many powerful partnerships were built and events held:

  • They worked with the local NAACP to address ongoing pollution at the abandoned Pillsbury Mills Site.
  • They worked side-by-side with a local Girl Scout troop as they learned about pollution, environmental advocacy, monarchs, and more.
  • They helped pull anti-racism workshops together in Springfield, after a racist action from a University of Illinois Springfield employee was made public.

Special shout-out to Elizabeth Scrafford, Andy Knott, and Scott Gauvin. Elizabeth and Andy both work with the Beyond Coal campaign. Scott is a long-time volunteer with the Sierra Club. He helped launch this campaign and fight an uphill battle to ensure that Springfield residents have clean air, water, and accountability in finances.

Congrats to this group for their tireless dedication over the last several years and their great job of protecting the environment.


Prairie State Protector January 2020 - Ke Li

Ke Li has been our volunteer Illinois chapter treasurer for the past three years. Ke has a degree in accounting and is passionate about the Sierra Club because she has seen the effects of pollution first hand in her home country in China. In her role as treasurer, she works with our staff and our local group treasurers across the state on the important behind the scenes work of managing our finances. Ke always enters a room with a smile on her face, a calm presence and the readiness to get the work done. We are so grateful for all she does for is here at the Sierra Club Illinois Chapter. Thank you, Ke!


Prairie State Protector December 2019 - Barb McKasson

December’s Prairie Protector is Barb McKasson, currently the Shawnee Group Conservation Co-Chair and member of the Illinois Chapter's Conservation Committee. During her 20-plus years as Shawnee Group Chair and since she stepped down from that position in 2016, she has made her commitment to protect southern Illinois natural areas very clear. This commitment was recently recognized by the Southern Illinois Native Plant Society (NPS). At this group's December 7 meeting, Barb received their Conservation Leadership Award for 2019.

 For many years Barb was on the Sierra Club Shawnee National Forest Campaign Committee, which monitored Forest Service (FS) proposals and projects, wrote Sierra Club comments in response to them, attended F.S. hearings and meetings, participated in various activities such as forest clean-ups and trail monitoring. She was very involved with monitoring the horse trails in Illinois Natural Areas and Wilderness within the Shawnee--participating in hikes to view horse riding damage, ATV damage, attending meetings and hearings, writing comments on FS Project Decisions, Forest Plan Draft, and Appeals. And her protection of our valued natural areas has continued unabated. She regularly organizes invasive species removal days in high quality state and federal natural areas, and regularly meets with or writes to land owning agencies to comment and negotiate on proposed actions that may damage or benefit plant communities.

An anecdote shared by Terri Treacy, who as part of her positions on the Sierra Club staff worked with Barb, speaks to Barb’s attention to detail and her ability to seize an opportunity and forward a project. As Terri put it: “Barb's reputation in the community for environmental passion and knowledge was always helpful to advancing the cause. For example, early on in my tenure as staff support, we held a mercury testing event, where we worked with a local hair salon and got people to come in to have a small swatch of hair cut for testing. Because of Barb's connections, we were able to get Sheila Simon to participate, which in turn helped in a big way to get the media to come out.” So not only does Barb "have our backs," as Jody Shimp, long-time conservationist, noted in the NPS award ceremony, but she knows how to have our backs so as to make a difference.



Prairie State Protector November 2019 - Clean Energy Jobs Act Organizers

This fall, the Illinois Chapter was lucky to be able to hire seven temporary organizers to support our campaign working to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act (CEJA). These organizers are doing incredible work building relationships and planning community actions in key legislative districts to advance our goal of a just and equitable transition to 100% clean, renewable energy.

Many of these organizers are wrapping up their stint with the Sierra Club. We are so grateful and impressed with their work, which is why we’re celebrating them this month as Prairie State Protectors

Cory - A native of Alton Illinois with a decade of journalism experience in the area, Cory has used his local knowledge and boundless energy to bring in more activists and strengthen local partnerships. One highlight of his campaign was a press conference he planned at a local pub frequented by a state legislator. The business owner spoke of the devastating impact of flooding on her business, and the need for bold climate and economic transition policies for Illinois. Outside of his time with the Sierra Club, Cory runs the Sunken Press, an independent journalism source for the Metro East.

Em - Em joined us after running a number of successful grassroots fundraising offices for progressive organizations. She’s used her extensive canvassing and training experience to teach others the fundamentals of petitioning, business canvassing, and driving calls into legislators, and trains them with a spirit of kindness and enthusiasm. A few highlights of her work in Aurora: she helped support recruitment for a town hall in Aurora with local legislators that 50 people attended. She has created some incredible gifs in support of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Em is a classically trained cellist and is beginning to dabble in composition.

Emilee - Emilee recently graduated University of Pittsburgh with a degree in Environmental Studies. At Pitt, she volunteered at the local food bank, and worked to promote bicycle accessibility on campus. After graduation, she volunteered with the Sierra Club in Pittsburgh before moving to Chicago to join the team as staff. Emilee has been working in DuPage County, and has done an especially thoughtful job recruiting new leaders, building new connections with students in the area, and working with the local group to continue to foster those connections after her time organizing in the area is over. Emilee brings humor and positivity to the team.

Jessica - Jessica joined us with more than a decade of organizing experience. After working as the Midwest Director for Food and Water Watch, she moved to New York to get a Masters in Public Policy. Upon moving back to Chicago, she has joined us for a few months to organize in support of CEJA. Jessica’s unbridled energy has brought positive morale to the whole team, and she has lent her guidance and experience to support others in their work on the ground. One highlight from Jessica’s organizing work: when some state legislators failed to show up to their own town hall, Jessica organized attendees to not only get them to show-up within the hour, but also got one legislator who was not yet a co-sponsor to co-sponsor. Jessica owns many plants and helps care for a praying mantis.

Lucero - Lucero joined us after graduating from Northwestern, and working for a year supporting students in their community engagement and service work at Evanston Township High School. She is organizing in Will County, IL. Through her work, she’s brought in new Sierra Club volunteers, and helped get a State Senator to be a new co-sponsor of the bill. She approaches her work with thoughtfulness, asks important questions, and is good at remaining calm amidst many responsibilities. She’ll be the first of our temporary organizers to depart, as she secured a position doing bilingual education at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. We’re sad to see her go, but glad she’ll get to pursue her interest in science education.

Peter - Peter joined us after graduating Yale, and spending a year in Korea learning Korean. He worked in the Northwest Suburbs with our very energized volunteer base. His first event in the area had more than 100 people in attendance. He also helped get dozens of local businesses to support the bill (eliciting some of their support in Korean) and delivered hundreds of petitions to local legislators. Peter brings with him extensive media experience, and will be sticking with the Sierra Club as a communications staff person for the Illinois Chapter. We’re excited to have him on-board into 2020.

Sally - Sally joins us after earning a Masters Degree in Environmental Policy Communication from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This is Sally’s third career: her first was serving as a local news anchor in Colorado, and her second was in reproductive healthcare, running a clinic in the Metro East. She brings to her organizing a strong focus on relationship building- both with volunteers and local partners. Through that intentional relationship building, she helped fill a bus to the brim for Clean Energy Lobby Day. Sally owns two goats, and a number of chickens, and recently got solar panels installed on her home.


Prairie State Protector October 2019 - Susan Link

Whether she’s collecting petitions for the Clean Energy Jobs Act, or serving as a citizen lobbyist, Susan Link is a steadfast Defender of the environment. Link moved to Illinois from Cleveland Ohio with her husband nearly 30-years ago and the couple currently live in Belleville. In addition to her tireless work with the Kaskaskia Group, she is a proud wife, mother of three and grandmother of five, with a bachelor’s of elementary education and a master’s in special education. She says two events in November of 2016 spurred her into action—the election, and the passing of her mother who had been a social activist herself.

She chose three groups to align with: Indivisible, Mom’s Demand Action, and the Sierra Club Kaskaskia Group. Group Chair Dale Wojotkowski says the Kaskaskia Group really came alive after Link joined up. Link is committed to creating a better world for her kids and her grandkids and believes that addressing the climate crisis is of upmost importance. Of the Sierra Club, Link says she enjoys the trainings that are offered, and is especially interested in helping to make a change to renewable energy, social and environmental justice, and getting candidates elected that are environmentally friendly.


Prairie State Protector September 2019 - Coal Ash Volunteers

Coal Ash AdvocatesThis month’s Prairie State Protectors are the volunteers working on coal ash issues across the state.  Their efforts were critical to pass Senate Bill 9, the Coal Ash Pollution Prevention Act, which instructed the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) to write rules governing the closure and clean-up of coal ash.  Coal ash is a byproduct of burning coal and contains high levels of harmful heavy metals such as arsenic, lead and selenium. Coal ash has been documented to pollute water in Illinois (report here).

Recently, the IEPA announced a series of listening sessions to gather public input on the coal ash rules they are drafting. Sierra Club staff, volunteers and our partners are working to amplify the listening sessions to make sure the voices of community members living near coal ash impoundments are heard, and their concerns are addressed by the new rules. Read the IEPA notice on the coal ash rule listening sessions here. For any questions on participating in these listening sessions, email

Prairie State Protector August 2019 - Piping Plover Protectors

Piping Plover

At the beginning of July, Chicago made national headlines as a critically endangered species, a pair of Piping Plovers, chose to nest on Montrose Beach for the first time in decades. There are only 70–80 known nesting pairs of Piping Plovers in the Great Lakes population, up from just 13 in the early 1980s. A proposed music festival became a serious threat to the Piping Plover family and other wildlife which use the protected Illinois Nature Preserve on the east end of Montrose Beach. The Chicago Audubon Society created an online petition that many groups, including those of the Sierra Club Illinois circulated, adding to the success of the message.

By the end of July, it was announced that the music festival had been canceled due to the higher than average waters of Lake Michigan and the rare presence of birds. Since we last shared news of the nesting pair of Plovers, three chicks have not only hatched but were seen flying this week! We applaud all those who were involved in keeping watch over the plovers and advocating for their protection.

Prairie State Protector June 2019 - Illinois Water Sentinels Team

Water Sentinels Group photo

Our Prairie State Protector this month is our Illinois Water Sentinels team! Almost 40 team members participated in the first statewide gathering June 7-9 in the Quad Cities, hosted by the local Eagle View Group of Sierra Club. The gathering included presentations from water experts, outings to explore the area, and opportunities for team members to connect and share about the great work they’re doing in their communities to protect clean water for all. Much appreciation to everyone who participated and especially to the Eagle View Group for hosting! Read more about the gathering and our awesome Illinois Water Sentinels team here

Prairie State Protector July 2019 - Gavin Hamilton

Gavin HamiltonAs a member of the Chicago Group, Gavin volunteers heavily with the Air and Energy team on various campaigns. Since 2017, he has lent his time and energies to the Ready for 100 Chicago campaign facilitating community dialogue sessions and representing the Group at different community outreach events. Most recently, Gavin has stepped up to be a local leader galvanizing support for the Clean Energy Jobs Act from Sierra Club members in the Chicagoland area. 

There's no task too big or small for Gavin- and for that, we salute you for your time and participation towards advancing Sierra Club's work.

Prairie State Protector May 2019 - Bob Gill

Bob Gill

Bob Gill, a member of the Piasa Palisades Group, is our May Prairie State Protector. Bob is a steadfast lobbyist and has been a part of many successful lobby days, including our recent Clean Energy Lobby Day in Springfield. Bob has been a Lobby Team member since 2006 and has attended all but one Issues Briefing over the past 13 years, despite having often to rush home to Alton the next day for his typically Dead-Head-themed birthday party.

In a break-out session on the topic of engaging newly elected lawmakers during this year’s Grassroots Lobby Team Issues Briefing, Bob discussed having people hike in our local open spaces with their senator or representative. This idea became affectionately known as “Take a Hike with your Legislator!”. Bob recently had in-district meetings with his legislators and all three said they would be glad to participate! He will begin the process of organizing a hike sometime later this spring.

Bob is a great photographer and we thank him for always stepping up to herd cats for a group shot at any Sierra Club gathering he attends. He is also a member of the Shawnee National Forest Committee, and has attended every Shawnee Clean Up, often enlivening the campfire with his harmonica.

Thank you, Bob, for all you do!

(pictured with sister Mary Shaw at Clean Energy Lobby Day 2015)


Prairie State Protector April 2019 - Alex McLeese

Alex McLeese

On April 10, Chicago became the largest city to set a city-wide 100% clean energy goal. The work was a product of hard work of volunteers like Alex McLeese. 

Alex is a member of the Air and Energy and Transportation teams and has been closely working with the Ready for 100 campaign since 2017. As a volunteer leader, he's worked over the years to collect petitions, provide campaign research, and engage local business leaders and community organizations in the conversation about a 100% clean energy transition. Whether leading community dialogues or participating in campaign webinars with volunteers across the Ready for 100 national network, Alex has been a valued team member who has brought the Ready for 100 Chicago campaign to this point.

Thank you to Alex and everyone on the RF100 Chicago team who led the Chicago Group to this momentous milestone! Onward to an equitable clean energy transition for the Windy City!

Prairie State Protector March 2019 - Steven Hall

Steven Hall

Congratulations to Steven Hall for being the March Prairie State Protector of the Month!

Steven is the Chair of the Blackhawk Group based in Rockford. He’s been hard at work this past year engaging the group in political nominations and engagement, recruiting new lobby team members, and convening and growing the group's Executive Committee.

This past month, he played a key role in planning a press conference in Rockford to celebrate the introduction of the Clean Energy Jobs Act. The press conference was a huge success: the Mayor, State Senator, and State Rep came to speak in support of the bill, along with respected community leaders. More than 40 people came out to show support for the bill.

Thank you Steven for all that you do!

Prairie State Protector February 2019 - Andy Kimmel

Andy Kimmel

After a galvanizing and often grueling cycle of an election season has passed, we are tasked with an opportunity to build relationships with our newly elected leaders, no longer as candidates but as the climate champions we believe they can be! With this new season upon us, the 2019 Lobby Team is being assembled in large part to the hard work and dedication of our Lobby Team co-chair, Andy Kimmel.

Andy was excited to join the Lobby Team in early 2017 and to become co-chair later that year. In his own words, Sierra Club does a great job of involving a wide diversity of grassroots folks in their state lobbying work. He shares, “It was a good way in retirement to use some skills that I had developed in over three decades of working for government and non-profit conservation organizations. With difficulty getting good things to happen legislatively at the federal level right now, it's especially important to do what we can at the state, county and local level. Our Lobby Team does that at the state level, while the individual Groups throughout Illinois accomplish great things at the county and local level. I've enjoyed working with so many other committed volunteers and with many talented Sierra Club staff.”

When asked about what inspired Andy to get involved in this line of advocacy, he shares “I got involved in conservation and environmental issues because of childhood experiences. A steel mill turned orange a stream that ran behind my elementary school. Even at that age, I knew that wasn't right. Later, I spent my high school years exploring the Cuyahoga Valley, which is now a national park, and along the shores of Lake Erie. In both cases, I developed a love of nature and saw how environmental action could clean up polluted areas. I studied Environmental Communications at The Ohio State University and then moved to Illinois, where I have lived and worked for most of my adult life.”

A fun fact is that Andy just celebrated his 60th birthday, appropriately, he says, by hiking in Death Valley! He was joined by his wife of 31 years, Suzanne Neumann. This month, we honor Andy for his service to the Illinois Chapter and for the array of skills and experiences he brings to the Lobby Team, which compliment the many hands that make this crucial expression of activism and involvement a reality. Thank you, Andy!


Prairie State Protector January 2019 - Illinois Chapter ExCom

Illinois Chapter ExCom

The Illinois Chapter is governed by an Executive Committee (ExCom) made up of volunteer leaders from across the state. The ExCom helps set statewide priorities and provides direction for the staff. It is comprised of one individual from the 14 local Sierra Club Groups and an additional nine At-Large members elected statewide from the general membership. For 2019 we welcome returning Chair Connie Schmidt and newly elected members Lyman Welch and Chuck Frank in these important roles.

Meetings are held every other month in a different location. All meetings are open to the general membership of the Sierra Club. For more information, the Chapter Chair may be contacted at


Prairie State Protector December 2018 - Jennifer Linton

Jennifer LintonJennifer Linton for her strong leadership in organizing the Chicago Ready for 100 kick-off celebration on December 5th! From printed invitations to photo booth props, Jennifer’s amazing graphic design skills helped to create a fun night for all invitees and guests! Jennifer’s leadership with Climate Reality Project enabled the RF100 Chicago team to incorporate the 24 Hours of Reality broadcast into the evening’s program and reach broader audiences with the event's messaging.

Thank you Jennifer for lending your incredible talent and network to the Ready for 100 Chicago effort as we work to make Chicago the largest city to commit to a 100% clean energy future for all!


Prairie State Protector November 2018 - Political Field Team

Political Field Teams

Our Prairie State Protector for the month is....our Political Field Team rock stars!

The 2018 election was our biggest volunteer effort yet! All across the state, Sierra Club members joined local political field teams to get out and elect our endorsed candidates. These members worked for months knocking on doors, making phone calls, and much more to bring these candidates to victory on election night.

Our teams held over 75 volunteer events for candidates in the final two months leading up to election day - more than one event per day for our endorsed candidates! We knocked on 28,697 doors and had 6,013 voter to voter phone conversations about endorsed candidates.

Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make this election so successful for our environmental priorities!


Prairie State Protector October 2018 - Chris Grenier

Chris Grenier

Chris Grenier started volunteering with our Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program in 2008, has been leading ICO outings since 2011 and has served as Chair since 2013.  He has dedicated many hours to running the program, planning fundraisers and leading outings with Chicago youth. Chris now passes the torch to Paul Micheli and Maria Hernandez, who are excited to jump in with a handful of new partners and many new volunteers eager to hit the trails this fall. To learn more about Chicago ICO, visit our website or Facebook page. And please join us for this year’s Adventure Film Festival on Nov. 11 at the Music Box Theatre - get tickets here!



Prairie State Protector September 2018 - Dorelle Ackermann

Dorelle Ackermann

Dorelle Ackermann is a member of the Sauk-Calumet Group and volunteered to help make this year's People Climate March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice a huge success. Dorelle participated in local planning meetings in Joliet, made phone calls to local members to inform them of the march, and cleaned the park after the event. In addition to her work on the march, Dorelle staffed a table at Mokena Pride this summer and distributed information on Sierra Club's Ready for 100 campaign.  Dorelle also is a trained presenter with the Climate Reality Project and gives presentations to spread awareness about climate change. Thank you for all you do!




Prairie State Protector August 2018 - Mark Kraemer

Mark KraemerThis month we recognize Mark Kraemer for his unwavering dedication with community outreach. As a friendly face and patient teacher, Mark has served as a delightful ambassador of the Illinois Chapter at countless farmers market, community event, or rally in the Chicagoland area. Most recently, Mark has been involved with spreading the word about the Ready for 100 campaign and advocating for community solar in his home of Wilmette. Rain or shine, suburbs or city- if your campaign has petitions, Mark is the guy you want on the team! Thank you Mark for your hard work!


Prairie State Protector July 2018 - Luis Ramirez

This month’s Prairie State Protector might be our youngest one yet! As a high school student at Pritzker College Prep on Chicago’s West Side, Luis Ramirez began participating in our Chicago Inspiring Connections Outdoors program* and even became a volunteer youth leader, planning and leading outings for his fellow classmates. He is now studying at Albion College in Michigan and plans to major in Environmental Studies and Anthropology. He has been inspired to protect the environment through experiences such as outings with ICO and national Sierra Club service trips, including doing trail work in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana and participating in a rededication ceremony for the Muir Memorial Shelter in California.  Luis has recently been accepted to the Sierra Student Coalition's Midwest Summer Grassroots Leadership Training Program (SPROG). SPROG is a one-week leadership training that teaches tools for environmental and social justice activism to young people across the country. You can donate to support the young people fundraising for their participation in SPROG here.

While hiking the Muir Pass with Sierra Club in 2016, Luis described his love for the mountains: “I did trail work with ICO in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana last year, and I’ve been waiting to get back to the mountains ever since. I want to keep learning about the environment and helping any way I can. When I’m outdoors in nature it just feels amazing. I think everyone, no matter their background, should have the opportunity to experience wilderness."

We are inspired by Luis’s love for the outdoors and desire to share that experience with others, and we can’t wait to see what he’ll do as a leader in the next generation’s environmental movement.

*ICO is a program of the Our Wild America campaign under the umbrella of Sierra Club Outdoors, which strives to expand access and create connections between people and the outdoors. Learn more about Sierra Club’s programs and partnerships to expand access to the outdoors: Military Outdoors, Inspiring Connections Outdoors, Nearby Nature and the Outdoors Alliance for Kids.


Prairie State Protector June 2018 - Mary Vazquez

Mary Vazquez

Mary Vazquez, a volunteer with the Chicago Group is this month’s Prairie State Protector! Mary is active on the Chicago Group’s Solidarity Team, and is a member of the lobby team. Her leadership was key in securing Sierra Club’s nation-wide support of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), and in engaging the Illinois Chapter in state-level work to ensure its recent passage in Illinois. Mary first brought the possibility of Illinois Sierra Club engaging in ERA in fall of 2017.

From there, she worked with others to ensure that Sierra Club nationally came out in support of this amendment. She engaged local volunteers in education about this issue by organizing a screening of the documentary Equal Means Equal at the Chicago office. She engaged in coalition meetings and phone banks to ensure that legislators heard from their constituents on this topic. Thank you Mary for you work on this issue, and giving Sierra Club the opportunity to engage in work to build a more just and equitable world!


Prairie State Protector May 2018 - Rebecca Boyd

Did the 2016 election motivate you to get involved, or step up your game?  It sure did for Rebecca Boyd.  Rebecca is highly motivated by the urgent need for climate action. She has participated in international climate talks such as COP 21, and brings her legal acumen to the Chapter as our volunteer Co-Counsel.  

Most recently, Rebecca has been the lead drafter of Senate Bill 2213, which would protect Illinois labor and environmental standards from Trump rollbacks by locking in Obama-era minimum federal standards as Illinois' minimum standards for the next three years.  In other words, SB 2213 would ensure that as Trump goes low, Illinois stays high when it comes to protecting air, water, and workers. Rebecca recently testified before the Illinois Senate Labor Committee in support of the bill, which passed the Senate and is now sponsored in the Illinois House by State Rep. Juliana Stratton.

Join Rebecca in working to protect Illinois from Trump by asking your State Representative to support SB 2213. 


Prairie State Protector April 2018 - Diane Stark

Left to right: Litesa Wallace, Diane Stark, Sherrie Aaron, Verena Owen, Anthony Vega

This month our Prairie State Protector is volunteer extraordinaire Diane Stark. Diane is Co-Chair of Woods and Wetlands’ Lobby and Political Committees.

Diane Stark has been a member of Woods and Wetlands for the last few years. In the last 6 months, she has taken on more responsibility and has become a volunteer leader within the Woods and Wetlands Group. She has taken on the role of Treasurer, and is helping lead our political and lobbying work in Lake County.

Over the course of the gubernatorial primary, Diane led the Political Field Team in phone banking for our endorsed candidates. Diane also opened her home for four days to the Daniel Biss Campaign for GOTV which allowed us to have a fully operational GOTV staging location in Lake County!

Diane’s dedication, leadership, and organizational skills make our work in Lake County much stronger. Thank you, Diane!

Photo: (Left to Right) State Rep. Litesa Wallace, Diane Stark, Sherrie Aaron, Verena Owen, and Anthony Vega. Diane Stark at a meet and greet with Litesa Wallace and Woods and Wetlands members in Libertyville.


Prairie State Protector March 2018 - Allison Schraub

Our Prairie State Protector of the month is Allison Schraub. Allison is the Chicago Group Political Chair, leading the endorsements and political field work for for the Chicago Group.

Allison started with Sierra Club as a staff apprentice organizer. As a volunteer, Allison's energy and enthusiasm is infectious and she has built a strong army of new and energized volunteer leaders around her in Chicago.

Allison led the Chicago Group's efforts to interview dozens of candidates to make endorsements for 32 offices across the city. Some of these races had up to 6 candidates to interview and evaluate.  Since making that many endorsements, Allison and her stellar team has held 4 events each week to help elect these candidates to office. We're stronger because of Allison's hard work, passion, and energy that she brings to Sierra Club.




Prairie State Protector February 2018 - Bill Davies

Bill Davies

When Bill Davies of Moline agreed to step into the position as Chair of the Illinois Chapter in 2002, little did he, or any of us, expect he would hold that position until January, 2018 (with one gap of less than a year in 2011).  Under Bill's steady leadership, the Illinois Chapter grew in members, effectiveness, and power into the organization we are today.  During Bill's tenure, the Illinois Chapter worked to create the Hackmatack, Kankakee, and Lost Mound National Wildlife Refuges; pass laws like the Renewable Portfolio Standard and Future Energy Jobs Act; won major upgrades in clean water standards for Illinois waters like the Mississippi River that runs through Bill's hometown; and helped elect environmental champions like Barack Obama to state and federal office. All of these successes involved new volunteer leaders who emerged under Bill's leadership. 

Bill now passes the Illinois Chapter Chair gavel to Connie Schmidt, but remains active in the Eagle View Group and as Chapter Vice-Chair.  We're grateful for the countless hours Bill has dedicated to building the Illinois Chapter into the force it is today, and we look forward to working with him to build on his legacy in 2018 and beyond.  Sierra Club's motto is "to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth."  Bill has certainly spent a lot of time on protection - hopefully now he'll have a chance to explore and enjoy a bit more!


Prairie State Protector January 2018 - Kathryn Allen

Photo: Kathryn Allen (far right) celebrating Environmental Film Festival with Fellow Volunteers













This month’s Prairie State Protector is Kathryn Allen. She recently spearheaded organizing a political organizing training in the Quad Cities that was attended by more than 20 people! Her activism with the Sierra Club spans more than a decade. She’s active with Water Sentinels, and is the co-founder and a key leader of the annual Eagle View Environmental Film Festival at Augustana College. Here’s some of what her fellow group members have to say about her accomplishments and what she brings to the organization and the community:

“My favorite part about working with Kathryn is how she is always so organized, enthusiastic and dedicated to the environmental project or committee she has taken on. Kathryn motivates those around her with her dedication and positive approach to the goal at hand. Also, Kathryn has a deep love for our beautiful planet..which is inspiring and very touching! Kathryn is fearless...shows the world her beliefs and desire to make change...and attends local and DC protests and marches!” -Kris Bergren

“She is integral to the Environmental Film Fest we host every year with Augustana College.  While she'll always tell you that it's a team effort (and it is), she is really the glue that holds the team together, doing a lot of the grueling work like spending hours on the phone with film distributors to get the rights to show films not just at the festival, but at any future EVG event so that we can be a better resource to the community.” -Olivia Dorothy

“I value Kathryn’s ability to stay hopeful and positive.  Even though many of us feel discouraged by the last election she remains hopeful and committed to making lasting positive changes for our community, state and country.  She is a compassionate and kind person who has an incredible ability to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere wherever she is.  Her ability to create strong and lasting relationships is shown by the number of people she can reach to support our events.  Our group is very fortunate to have her as an ExCom member.” -Emily Clever  

Thank you Kathryn for all that you do! 

Photo: Kathryn Allen (far right) celebrates Environmental Film Festival with fellow volunteers.

Prairie State Protector December 2017 - Terri Treacy

Terri-SenBushWe've taken a departure from protocol this month to recoginize not a volunteer, but longtime Chapter staffer, Terri Treacy.
Terri joined the Sierra Club staff in 2001 to work on protecting the Shawnee National Forest.  Terri's experience, knowledge, and love of the outdoors makes her a passionate advocate for Illinois' wild places, and she introduced many people to Illinois' only national forest and engaged them in Sierra Club's efforts to protect it. She worked closely with the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and helped lead efforts to protect the agency from further cuts and park closures during very difficult times in state government, and served on the state Natural Resources Advisory Board.
Terri has led Sierra Club's work to confront fossil fuel extraction in Illinois, and the consequences for our land, water, and communities.  She has built strong connections with communities dealing with the legacy of coal mining, and threats posed by new mining and waste disposal.  In addition to fighting for stronger protections from destructive practices, she has led efforts to develop alternative visions for economic development in communities historically dependent on coal mining.  Her work on the Future Energy Jobs Act creates new pathways to a clean energy future everywhere in Illinois, including coal communities.
Terri become Sierra Club's first ever Springfield Representative in 2013, and represented our members before the Illinois General Assembly and state agencies.  In addition to the historic Future Energy Jobs Act, Terri worked to pass new laws to require lead testing for schools and daycare facilities, ban the sale of species of noxious, invasive weeds, and protect habitat and promote awareness for monarchs and other pollinators.  She helped defeat numerous attacks on clean air and water protections, and avert budget cuts and sweeps of critical environmental and clean energy programs.
We wish Terri the very best in her retirement.  Illinois is cleaner and greener for her many efforts, and hopefully she will now have plenty of time to spend in the great outdoors she worked so hard to protect.  Happy trails Terri
Photo: Terri celebrates the passage of pollinator protection legislation with Senator Melinda Bush.

Prairie State Protector November 2017 - Audrey Wiseman

audrey wisemanThis month we celebrate the life of longtime Sierra Club volunteer Audrey May Wiseman. Wiseman, 83, passed awat in her home on Nov. 2, 2017 in Alton. 

Audrey had many diverse talents and interests. She was not only a gardener, homemaker and seamstress; she was also an artist, showing much of her work in local art shows. Audrey was a longtime member of Friends of the Hayner Public Library; she volunteered at Treehouse and worked monthly at Caravan for thirty years. She belonged to the First Unitarian Church of Alton, Sierra Club, Nature Institute, and Audubon Society. She was a guest columnist for the (Alton) Telegraph and performed in many plays at Alton Little Theater. An excellent writer with a quirky sense of humor, a homemaker who put rocks, turkey feathers, and driftwood into beautiful arrangements all around the house, Audrey loved animals and had many pets over the years. She enjoyed canoeing and camping with family in national parks from coast to coast. She was never without her binoculars or drawing pad. She had a curious zest for life and was gracious and loving. 

Fellow Sierrans, Wayne and Jennifer Politsch said that they always learned a lot from Audrey, especially in nature.  “In touch with her “inner artist” she would enter the woods or prairie with her eyes, mind, and heart wide open.  She found complexity and beauty in the web of a spider or the ice crystals formed at the ponds edge.  If we listened and were patient, she often expressed her insights  in words, poetry,  and drawings. On cool, crisp, night hikes, she could point out Orions Belt in the starry sky using her official Sierra Club headscarf imprinted with the major night sky constellations.  Audrey would have us pondering the deep mysteries of the universe...leave us inspired and humble seeing beauty in a sometimes numbing and chaotic world,” said Jennifer.

Another long time Sierran, Ginger McCall, tells the story of her memory of Audrey as a member of the Prairie Chicken Gang. “Back in late winter of 1994, a number of local Sierra Club members drove over to Prairie State Park near the Kansas/Missouri border.  The purpose was to watch the courtship display of the Greater Prairie Chicken. Of course, Audrey and Dave Wiseman signed up to go. They were joined by Wayne and Jen Politsch, Bly Allen, Bob Long, Marvin Rensing and Jack and myself, Ginger McCall. We had to be at the booming grounds at Prairie State Park way before dawn in order to successfully view the actions as the sun rose. It was a cold morning and all of us were warmly bundled. It was worth the wait, hunkered down and shivering in anticipation of a big show. In the early gray dawn, numerous male Greater Prairie Chickens began moving into the meadow. The males, whose air sacs ballooned and colored a vivid orange, began strutting, posturing and dancing. They aggressively competed with one another for “center stage”. Quietly we watched, but were not the only spectators. The female chickens were around deciding which male was the most attractive. Predators were also around. It was Audrey who spotted a pack of coyotes running along the perimeter. Hawks began soaring over the booming grounds, ready to grab an inattentive male.  An hour after sunrise, all was quiet and we could explore other areas of Prairie State Park.  On the booming grounds, a dead male was found and taken to a staff member at the Visitor Center.  We all felt a kinship as our adventure ended and the Greater Prairie Chicken Gang was formed. Reunions were held several times, including at Audrey and David’s home.”   

Audrey married David Wiseman in 1954; their love lasted more than sixty-three years. She was a lifetime Altonian, graduating from Alton High School and attending Shurtleff College. She went on to receive her Bachelor of Arts Degree from SIUE in 1980.

Prairie State Protector October 2017 - Jane Cogie

Jane CogieOctober’s Protector of the Month is Jane Cogie. Jane is the Chair of the Shawnee Group, and has been active with the group for two years. Throughout the summer of 2017, Jane immersed herself in building more connections across the Carbondale community--letting folks know about the benefits of the Future Energy Jobs Act, and learning more about the work groups are doing to advance racial justice, gender equity, local agriculture, etc. Through this outreach, Jane helped bring a new organization focused on supporting returning citizens (individuals coming out of the criminal justice system) to the Illinois Clean Jobs Coalition. Jane partnered with fellow Shawnee Group ExCom member Elizabeth Donoghue to plan a clean energy forum in Carbondale. More than eighty individuals attended, more than a dozen groups tabled and participated in the event--joining a discussion about their priorities around clean energy development in the Carbondale area. You can read more about this event in the Southern’s article. Jane also helped pull-together an organizing training and campaign strategy session the next day attended by more than twenty individuals that was focused on creating a long-term campaign to set a 100% clean energy goal for Carbondale. Thank you Jane for your thoughtful and powerful leadership!

Prairie State Protector September 2017 - Marge Frens

Marge FrensThis month we’re honoring Marge Frens as the Prairie State Protector. Marge was a dedicated member of the Sierra Club Northwest Cook Group Executive Committee, who left this world too soon this past August. Marge got involved with the Sierra Club through our campaign to support Obama’s Clean Power Plan and pass the Clean Jobs Bill (which eventually passed as the Future Energy Jobs Act). She helped get new co-sponsors on the Clean Jobs Bill, helped elect (and re-elect) clean energy champions like Rep Michelle Mussman, Sen Laura Murphy, and US Rep Raja Krishnamoorthi, organized rallies, mobilized people to get on buses to Springfield and DC, and built and sustained relationships with other progressive organizations in the northwest suburbs. Marge was also very active with Organizing for Action and the Community Renewal Society. Marge was a remarkable individual--bringing enthusiasm and energy wherever she went, recruiting new people into campaigns, and getting things done. We miss her. If you’d like to make a donation in Marge’s memory, you can donate to Organizing for Action, the Sierra Club, or Community Renewal Society.