Rita Renwick has a last name that’s familiar to many in the Plainfield area. The long-time volunteer even worked as part of the group to preserve the Lake Renwick area and its rookery, but she isn’t related to the family that once owned the property that is now the preserve.
Renwick and her husband moved to Joliet in 1972 and found several other Renwicks living in the area, but none were related.
“If we are related to those connected to the (Lake Renwick property), you would have to look at the family tree going back to the 1500s in Selkirk, Scotland,” she said.
However, that didn’t stop her from becoming involved in the efforts to preserve the property and the rookery. The campaign was the work of the Will County chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society, which wanted to preserve the land that was once the Chicago Gravel Corp., owned by the Renwick family dating back to the early 1900s.
The effort was a success, and Lake Renwick preserve became a part of the Forest Preserve District of Will County in 1990. Renwick has been volunteering with the District since then.
“Once the property became part of the District and was designated an Illinois nature preserve, I think most of us felt an obligation to help with programming at the site and were excited to share our interest and knowledge of the birds that return and nest there every year.”
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Renwick’s volunteering activities include working at the rookery a few times each summer, but she also does a lot of behind-the-scenes work at the preserve, including scheduling volunteers for events and working with District employees on programming at the site.
“It was a struggle to get Lake Renwick preserved,” she said. “I’m proud to have been a part of that.”
Her contributions to the community, however, have extended beyond the Forest Preserve District and the Audubon Society, volunteering at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and the Joliet Park District’s Pilcher Park Nature Center and serving on the City of Joliet’s Tree Advisory Board.
For Renwick, volunteering is a chance to teach others about her own passion.
“Sharing my love of the outdoors with other people is probably what I enjoy most about volunteering,” she said. “Experiencing the public’s excitement when they hear and view birds at the rookery never gets old.”
Her desire to be in nature stems in part from the world we live in today and the news headlines about the health of our planet.
“Dire predictions about our natural world are an everyday occurrence,” she said. “Volunteering in the natural world helps assuage the gloom and doom. There is nothing quite like actually getting out in nature and doing something positive with like-minded people to lift your spirits.”
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