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2021 Volunteer Awards honor hours of dedication

From left to right are Forest Preserve Board President Joe VanDuyne, Volunteers of the Year Mark Bettin and Scott Mortenson, and Forest Preserve Executive Director Ralph Schultz. (Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock)

Mark Bettin of Mokena and Scott Mortenson of Oak Park have been chosen as the 2021 Volunteers of the Year by the Forest Preserve District.

Award winners were announced recently at the annual Volunteer Awards Banquet as the Forest Preserve celebrated its many volunteers and the hours and hours of contributions they provided last year.

Bettin's and Mortenson’s collaborative outreach efforts won them the top award, said Emily Kenny, the Forest Preserve’s volunteer services supervisor.

“The winners of the 2021 Volunteer of the Year award not only volunteered their time but also created opportunities for others to volunteer,” she said. “They organized groups, supported other stewards, and invited corporations to participate in natural resource management opportunities.”

The two men often worked together in 2021, Kenny explained.

“They bring new and challenging ideas to the District with a side of humor and friendship,” she said. “Occasionally these volunteers worked on separate projects, but their combined force made 2021 a memorable year for the Forest Preserve’s conservation department.”

Winners in other categories were:

  • Special Acts: Jim Avila, Shorewood
  • Outstanding Group: Deer Management Team
  • Outstanding Family: Dave and Marie Wendt, Joliet
  • Outstanding Youth: Nicole Lomax, Park Forest
  • Outstanding Senior: Sally Wieclaw, New Lenox
  • Rookie of the Year: Ryan Sorrells, Plainfield

The District celebrated 38 years of volunteering at the banquet and distributed service awards for longevity.

“I was fortunate enough to award four Prairie People Volunteers with over 30 years of service,” Kenny said. “I am so amazed by our team of volunteers. Several have had major medical setbacks over the years, but they still return to the District to donate their time and skills. They truly are some of the most dedicated and passionate individuals, and I am honored to work with them.”

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, awards banquets were not held in 2020 or 2021, so Kenny acknowledged the 2019 and 2020 performance awards recipients at this year’s gathering, which was held April 26.

In 2021, 576 volunteers generously donated more than 9,100 hours of service to the District, which allowed the Forest Preserve to accomplish much more than it could have without their diligent efforts.

Volunteers take part in habitat management, program and event assistance, wildlife monitoring, and sentinel duties while walking or riding preserve trails.

For more information on volunteer opportunities, visit the Volunteer Page.

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