Each year Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) honors individuals, organizations or government agencies that have worked in an exemplary manner to carry out CURE’s mission with the RiverKeeper Award. This year, CURE celebrates its 25th year as a grassroots nonprofit in rural Minnesota, and with Governor Dayton’s focus on clean water initiatives throughout the state, Darby and Geri Nelson of Champlin, Minnesota, were chosen as the 2016 RiverKeepers.
It was an easy decision to award this husband and wife duo as they boldly demonstrate the length and breadth of the work it takes to preserve and protect our environment while working to solve critical water issues throughout Minnesota. Key attributes of the RiverKeeper recipients are individuals whose lives exemplify CURE’s mission to “protect and restore resilient rural landscapes by harnessing the power of citizens who care about them,” and it is clear that the Nelsons have spent decades as stewards for water protection.
Darby and Geri have dedicated their lives to education, conservation, and advocacy in the name of the environment; particularly clean water. Darby, a freelance writer, received his Ph. D. in aquatic ecology from the University of Minnesota. He then went on to teach biology and environmental science at Anoka-Ramsey Community College for 35 years and served three terms in the Minnesota state legislature, representing Anoka, Hennepin and Wright counties. He worked diligently on environmental initiatives and was influential in passing a bill that started the Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources. In 2011, Michigan State Press published Darby’s first book, For the Love of Lakes, which tells the story of his love of lakes and his observations of their deterioration. His book earned him the nickname the “modern-day Thoreau” by WCCO news anchor and reporter Don Shelby. During his tenure as an educator, scientist, writer, and activist, Darby received awards from the MN Post-Secondary Science Teacher of the Year and the Faculty Excellence Award, along with awards from the Sierra Club, Izaak Walton League and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
Geri, a scientist and educator herself, is a member of the University of Minnesota’s first graduating class of the College of Biological Sciences. Geri soon realized her passion for teaching and returned to school earning her teaching licensure. She taught physical science in the Anoka-Hennepin School District for 25 years. During her time as an educator, Geri served as director of the Minnesota Academy of Science State Science Fair, and helped develop the state’s science framework for K-12 education. Throughout her career Geri focused on engaging girls in math and science and was instrumental in organizing an annual Girl’s Middle School Science and Math Retreat for over 14 years. Currently, Geri serves as the voter services co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Anoka, Blaine, Coon Rapids Area where she is leading efforts to raise awareness of threats to bees and other pollinators as well as working to encourage voter registration.
Throughout their life together, which includes 49 years of marriage, two children and five grandchildren, and countless adventures, the Nelsons have made it evident that they are passionate environmental stewards. The couple is living proof that real change goes beyond simply understanding science; it takes the power of citizens that care about their communities and surrounding ecosystems over the long-term to make a difference. Darby said it best in a 2012 interview with Don Shelby, “If you want to change someone’s behavior, go for the heart. That’s where decisions are ultimately made.”
Darby and Geri have demonstrated, through their heart and commitment, that their mission is to be leaders for citizen-led environmental preservation and protection. They live out CURE’s mission day in and day out using their citizen power to help protect and restore Minnesota’s waters and the environment. CURE Board of Directors and staff are proud to recognize Darby and Geri Nelson as the 2016 RiverKeeper Award recipients. Along with the recognition comes a commissioned Tokheim Stoneware commemorative platter with an inscription from the Book of Amos that reads, “Let justice roll down like a river, integrity like a never failing stream.” The platter is designed and made by longtime CURE members Gene and Lucy Tokheim of Dawson, Minnesota.