Venango County Conservation Hall of Fame
The Venango County Conservation Hall of Fame was created in 2011 by the Oil City Chapter, Izaak Walton League of America. The program honors local men and women who have made significant and lasting contributions to conservation and the environment.
In partnership with Clarion University’s Venango campus, the Conservation Hall of Fame is housed in the Robert W. Rhoades Student Center.
- Eligibility requirements are that a nominated individual be a Venango County native or lived or worked in Venango County.
- Nominations are sought for both living and posthumous inductees each fall by the Conservation Hall of Fame, Oil City Chapter IWLA, P.O. Box 551, Seneca, PA 16346.
- Inductees are selected by a panel of judges that includes representatives of the Oil City Chapter, Izaak Walton League of America, and local community and conservation leaders.
The annual induction ceremony is typically held in December each year in the Robert W. Rhoades Auditorium at Clarion University, Venango campus in Oil City, PA.
Founded in 1922, the Izaak Walton League of America is one of the nation’s oldest and most respected conservation organizations. The Oil City Chapter was chartered in 1926, making it the oldest chapter in Pennsylvania and among the oldest operating chapters in the nation.
For More Information Contact:
John Noel Bartlett
304 Mayer Street
Oil City, PA 16301
Hall of Fame Inductees
William "Bill" Belzer
1943 - 2016
Bill Belzers’s conservation legacy is vast, but perhaps none is greater than his efforts to protect and conserve the eastern box turtle, a species in decline throughout its range. He undertook seminal work on the translocation and reintroduction of the species to areas of its historical range; he published several research papers on the subject and was a tireless advocate for the species. In 1993 he created the Eastern Box Turtle Conservation Trust to ensure the long-term continuation of those efforts. Bill, a native of inner-city Philadelphia, settled in Venango County upon becoming a professor at Venango Campus, Clarion University in 1982 where he taught for more than 20 years. Throughout his life Bill was involved in nature programming for children, lived by a conservation ethic and led by example.
Bruce Dickson grew up on a farm in Cranberry Township. The nearby fields and woods were his playground and his inspiration for a career as an educator, researcher and environmental consultant. His waterways restoration and assessment projects include the Rivers Conservation Plan for the Scrubgrass Creek Watershed and the Pithole Creek Heritage Waters assessment. As a consultant Bruce ensures companies meet their environmental obligations. As a researcher his work increased understanding of the value of riparian forests on non-point-source pollution control, the effects of long-wall mining on streams, and more. He has taught courses at Pitt and Duquesne and for the U.S. Forest Service. He has volunteered extensively with Trout Unlimited and other conservation groups.
Marilyn Ann Wolfe Black
Born in Sewickley, growing up in Sharon and now a long-time resident of Crawford County, much of Marilyn Black's professional career has been in Venango County. Her leadership in conservation and outdoor recreation causes and organizations has greatly benefitted the county, the region and the state. Her service includes: A decade on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, including a term as president; Long-time director and officer including chair of the Pennsylvania Wildlife Federation; Numerous positions and activities with the Pennsylvania Outdoors Writers Association, Trout Unlimited, the Pennsylvania Bass Association, the American Bass Association, the Council on Greenways and Trails, the Erie to Pittsburgh Trail Alliance, the Pennsylvania Greenways Partnership Commission that developed the state-wide greenways plan, and more.
Linda Steiner hails from Bergen County, N.J., but has called Pennsylvania home since 1972 and Venango County since 1984. An outdoor writer, her articles and columns, often co-written with her husband Bob, have inspired and introduced thousands to the wonders of nature and nature-based outdoor recreation, the value of our natural resources and the importance of protecting them. Her commitment to the role of the outdoor writer led her to serve terms as president and as executive director of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association. She has also served on the Governor's Advisory Council on Hunting Fishing, and Conservation; as a past president of Trout Unlimited's Oil Creek Chapter; as a board member of the of the Allegheny Valley Conservancy and the Two Mile Run County Park Board and helped lead the Friends of Two Mile Run County Park program.
Robert "Bob" Steiner
A native of Westmoreland County, Bob moved to Northwestern Pennsylvania in 1972to
begin a career with the bob bob steinersteinerPennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission,
first as a fish culturist and then as a Waterways Conservation Officer. He and his
wife Linda settled in Cooperstown in 1984 when Bob was assigned to Venango County.
Throughout his career Bob was known for his work to improve local fisheries and his
commitment to the resource as well as law enforcement duties. However he is perhaps
best known as an outdoor writer whose articles and columns, often co-written with
his wife, have inspired and introduced thousands to the wonders of nature and nature-based
outdoor recreation, the value of our natural resources and the importance of protecting
them. He is a past president of Trout Unlimited Oil Creek Chapter and long active
in numerous local conservation programs.
A native of Erie and a long-time resident of Crawford County, much of Valerie Tarkowski’s professional and volunteer work on behalf of the environment has been in Venango County. A founding member of the South Sandy Creek Watershed Association, she led the group in extensive mine reclamation and acid-mine-drainage remediation projects throughout the watershed. Field and Stream Magazine named her a “Hero of Conservation” for her watershed work. For four years she was the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission regional Environmental Education Specialist, providing programs in Venango and other counties in the northwest. As a freelance outdoors writer and photographer, she has tackled difficult subjects providing fair and accurate information enabling readers to make informed decisions. She is a past president of the Oil Creek Chapter Trout Unlimited and vice president of the state council.
In 1979 Tom Thomas and his wife moved to Phipps Road, Kennerdell. Within a year a synthetic fuels plant was proposed near the couple’s new home. Tom’s careful review of the process and its environmental impact spurred him into action and creation of the Western Pennsylvania Citizens for Clean Communities. Under Tom’s leadership the group helped stop the project ushering in an environmentally friendly electric generating plant. An advocate for the Allegheny River and its recreational designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Tom was appointed in 1992 to the river’s Southern Advisory Council. He focused the council’s attention on acid mine drainage impacts on the river and tributaries. In 1998 he helped form and continues to lead the Scrubgrass Creek Watershed Association, which to date has plugged 40 abandoned oil wells and helped develop a treatment system for the worst point source of acid mine drainage in the watershed.
A Venango County Native, Evelyn Kolojejchick developed her life-long love for the natural world roaming the fields and woods near the family home in Sugarcreek Borough. As a conservationist she has inspired, led and been boots on the ground. As a biology teacher at Cranberry High School she supervised the Science Club, organized environmental education field trips, making them available to students at other schools and coached the Eco Team. She excited and inspired her students to become conservationists. Many went on to careers in the environmental sciences. In retirement Evelyn became deeply involved and took a leadership role with the Venango County Senior Environmental Corps and Friends of Oil Creek State Park. She has worked and led local water quality monitoring programs, efforts to locate abandoned oil wells and in volunteering with conservation programs throughout the county.
In 2004 John Kolojejchick became chair of the Venango County Senior Volunteer Corps and took on the mission of finding and mapping abandoned oil and gas wells in this the birthplace of the Oil Industry. To date , more than 800 of the wells, which pose a potential environmental threat, have been located. Under his leadership, the organization has joined with several universities in studying methane releases from the wells, which could contribute to climate change. He is an organizer of the “Chicks N’ The Sticks” event at Oil Creek State Park, designed to get more women involved in outdoor activities and volunteers with numerous other conservation and environmental science programs throughout the region. A Luzerne County native, John moved to Venango County upon marrying his wife Evelyn. He spent his teaching career at Franklin High School, where he inspired and led new generations of conservationists.
Internationally renowned fly-fisherman, fly-fishing educator, and conservation advocate, Gary Borger first cast a line in the streams near Cooperstown, Venango County, his childhood home. A 1962 Rocky Grove High School graduate, he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Penn State and a Ph.D. forestry and botany from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He went on to teach for 28 years at the University of Wisconsin, Wausau becoming Professor Emeritus. He has written numerous books and articles and produced numerous videos on fly-fishing in addition to instructing and advocating on fishing and conservation. Gary stated, “I knew when I was a junior in college that I wanted to get a Ph.D. and become a college professor, and I wanted what I would learn to benefit others in gaining a better understanding of, and appreciation for, the world around us.”
A native of Oil City and life-long resident of the area, Gary Edwards contributed significantly to our knowledge and appreciation of the region’s birds. He served as Venango County Coordinator for the first Pennsylvania Breeding Bird Atlas (1984-89) and as regional coordinator for the 2nd atlas two decades later. Gary was a founding member and first president of the Seneca Rocks Audubon Society and since its formation continued in leadership roles. He holds both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in biology from Clarion University and worked for 33 years as an environmental consultant and upon retiring taught at Clarion. He has written extensively on the region’s birds, established a Venango County bird sighting Web site, has taught numerous programs on birding and has been widely recognized for his contributions to Pennsylvania’s ornithology.
1925 - 2013
John Gannon held leadership positions with the Oil City Chapter, IWLA for nearly seven decades, including terms as president, but his most enduring role was that of the chapter’s conscience of conservation. John always reminded the chapter of the IWLA pledge and was a tireless advocate for conservation, especially the protection of our waters and lands. His strongly worded letters to elected officials urging environmental protections were legendary. He was the driving force behind many of the chapter’s conservation efforts and youth programs, but always shied away from taking public credit. Born in Lucinda, Clarion County, John’s family moved to the Oil City area when he was a child and he returned to Oil City in the late 1940s’ following Naval service in WW II and a brief period in California.
Edward J. “Ed” Schick
Edward Schick has ensured that hundreds of children never suffer from Nature Deficit Disorder, a lack of exposure to the natural world. Schick was a founder and long the guiding force behind Cranberry Conservation Days. The program started in 1970 provides an in-the-field, hands-on introduction to outdoor skills, activities and nature. He spent a lifetime in scouting, including leadership of Troop 111 since the 1970s, where outdoor activities are a core commitment. For 24 years he served on the board of the Venango County Conservation District, helping lead efforts to obtain its first full-time director, keep some state land in agricultural production, and protect the county’s streams along dirt and gravel roads. Originally from West Mifflin, Schick moved to Venango County in 1969 after accepted a teaching position with the Cranberry Area School District, where he soon became a principal.
Howard “Zahnie” Zahniser
1906 - 1964
Howard Zahniser was the principle author of the Wilderness Act and the untiring guiding force that built the grassroots support and Congressional coalition to make it a reality in 1964. Born in Franklin, he spent his formative teenage years in Tionesta, which he called his hometown. A conservationist who worked for the federal Bureau of Biological Survey and the Department of the Interior, he wrote for Nature and other publications. In 1945 he became Executive Secretary/Director of the Wilderness Society, a position he held until his unexpected death just a few months before the Wilderness Act was signed into law. His eloquent definition of wilderness used in the Act: “An area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
1951 - 2003
An avid birder, naturalist, outdoorsman and outdoor educator, Richard “Dick” Krear of Emlenton shared his enthusiasm for the natural world with all. He was instrumental in creation of the Seneca Rocks Audubon Society, was a master falconer who regularly provided programs on falconry and birds of pretty and was honored for organizing the building of nesting platforms for osprey and peregrine falcons. He served as a deputy Waterways Conservation Officer and became a designated “river keeper” for the Allegheny River. To further awareness and provide the public with educational opportunities about the river, he bought a custom-built flatboat and opened Red Tail Eco Tours. “If you want to get kids interested in the outdoors, you show him something in his backyard,” Dick said.
1939 – 2013
James “Jim” Holden’s vision, leadership and tireless work is daily enjoyed by hundreds of Venango County residents and visitors who enjoy and get close to nature along the region’s bike/hike trail systems. As a founder and long-time president and board member of the Allegheny Valley Trails Association, Jim was a driving force behind the trail system. Jim also is a founding member of the Allegheny Valley Conservancy, a small land trust that focuses on protection and preservation of the Allegheny River landscape corridor. He has led efforts to protect land along French Creek, including a conservation easement on his own property. Retired as a Clarion University professor, Jim continues to farm, serving as an example of the best in sustainable agriculture practices.
E. Michael “Mike” Boyle
A native of Oil City, E. Michael Boyle developed an early appreciation of Pennsylvania’s natural heritage of woods, water and wildlife, leading to a lifetime personal commitment and decades of volunteer work with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy. Mike joined the WPC board in 1975 and served as chairman from 2001 to 2012, leading the organization as it accomplished several landscape-scale acquisitions and other projects that will forever benefit all Pennsylvanians. Twice during his tenure as Chairman, Mike also served as acting president of the Conservancy as searches were conducted for a president/chief executive officer, devoting his attention to day-to-day organizational management providing uninterrupted leadership and a smooth transition. His conservation legacy can be seen across Pennsylvania’s landscape and in the ongoing success of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
1913 - 1995
Roy was a leading conservation advocate throughout his lifetime; his accomplishments remarkable. He was instrumental in passage of the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Act, the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act of 1985, and in gaining critical grass-roots support for the federal Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. He helped author the Clean and Green Amendment to the state Constitution and advocated for the Allegheny River and restoration of the state’s waterways. He demanded enforcement of the state’s pollution and conservation laws, even when it placed him at personal risk.
1915 - 1989
An outdoor writer whose columns were carried in the Derrick, the News Herald and a number of other newspapers in the region, Steve Szalewicz was a voice for nature and the protection of natural resources. He was instrumental in the battle to end dredging in the Allegheny River and for better regulation of strip mining and control of acid mine drainage. His writing helped gain grass roots support for Project 70 legislation that provide funding for conservation and recreation programs . Steve viewed all of nature as a gift given and the great outdoors as a Cathedral
1932 - 2001
Born and raised in Oil City, Joseph Petulla was a renowned writer, educator and environmentalist. He founded the Graduate Program in Environmental Management at the University of San Francisco, the first such program of its kind. His books include ”American Environmental History,” a volume the library of Congress listed as an essential Earth Day reading, and “Edgar Beaver: An Environmental Fable,” based on the on the natural life history of beavers, its theme is the need for society to work towards sustainability.
A native of Oil City, Bill Lynam dedicated much of his life to conservation, Pennsylvania’s wildlife, and combatting what came to be known as “Nature Deficit Disorder” the lack of involvement with the natural world – among the county’s youngsters. Bill served for 40 years as a Deputy Wildlife Conservation Officer and gained honors as a hunter education instructor. He was largely responsible for success of Venango County Youth Field Days and Cranberry Conservation Days. Throughout his life Bill stressed the interconnectedness of the natural world and our wellbeing.
John Hummel, a long-time Kennerdell resident, became a tireless advocate for the environment and his beloved Allegheny River. He was a leading supporter of the river’s designation under the Wild and Scenic Rivers program, served on a river management committee and helped form a river support group. He fought for restoration of the area’s abandoned strip mines and streams impacted by acid mine drainage. He led local efforts for osprey and river otter reintroduction programs and was a leader with the annual Polk Center Community Earth Day Programs.