By LANCE ARMSTRONG, Valley Community Newspapers writer
But the road to reaching this notable anniversary has not always been easy for the center, which is dedicated to its mission of “bringing awareness of the beauty and diversity of the natural world to children, families and the community through education initiatives that foster appreciation, enjoyment and stewardship of the unique natural and cultural resources of the Sacramento region.”
The most difficult of these times occurred last July, when this award-winning environmental and cultural education center, which is part of a 77-acre nature preserve, was informed that it would be losing its county funding, because the county could no longer afford to operate the center.
But fortunately for the center, it has survived through the assistance of a non-profit organization, the American River Natural History Association, which obtained a temporary lease of the building from the county and presently operates the center.
Considering the challenges that the center faced last year, which included having its entire staff laid off, Betty Cooper, the center’s development director, said that it is especially gratifying for the center to celebrate its 35th anniversary.
“In spite of the ups and downs and the incredible odds that we were facing last year, here we are like a phoenix, kind of rising from the flames of the budget devastation as an independent, non-profit and we’re really proud of that,” Cooper said. “We’re going to be here to stay. It’s a very important asset to the community to have our nature center here and we’re going to make sure that it keeps going in perpetuity.”
Through the recent work of the aforementioned association, which began providing assistance to the center in a lesser but nonetheless very essential role in 1981, the center has achieved much success during its transition.
Cooper said that the progress that has been made at the center has been accomplished with the labor of a dedicated “skeleton crew” of eight staff members, who have worked for lower wages and no benefits. In contrast, at its greatest strength, the center maintained a staff of 20 workers.
She added that the current staff is working to overcome one of its biggest obstacles.
“We’re fighting a bit of a public relations problem,” Cooper said. “A lot of people think that the nature center has been closed, so the teachers haven’t been booking their programs as much as they have in the past. So, we’re working on that. We’re doing big outreaches to the schools. We’re going to be offering some two-for-one-type programs to get the word out that we are open and thriving and we’re working really hard to keep the nature center and its wonderful mission going for the community.”
In recognizing the center’s 35-year-history, it is important to focus in on the name of the center itself.
The name Effie Yeaw has a strong legacy in the Sacramento region, whether one thinks of the popular nature center which bears this name or whether one thinks of the late educator and naturalist Effie Yeaw, who was thought so highly of that her name was memorialized as part of the name of the nature center.
Born Effie Mae Cummings in Chico on May 15, 1900, Yeaw, who was the daughter of schoolteachers Galen and Ella Cummings, later moved to Wheatland, then to Lincoln and eventually to Sacramento, where she attended Sacramento High School – where she served as president of the Biological Honor Society – and Sacramento Junior College (today’s Sacramento City College).
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in social studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 1922, Yeaw taught at Harkness Grammar School and Sutter Junior High School in Sacramento before moving to Hawaii, where she continued to teach, while earning her master’s degree in social studies from the University of Hawaii in 1932.
Yeaw later returned to the Sacramento area and resumed her teaching, this time as an elementary school teacher in the Carmichael School District, which was later a part of the San Juan Unified School District.
Yeaw worked to instill a love for nature in her students through the Carmichael Conservation Center, which included birds, squirrels, raccoons and a fawn.
Although the center closed in 1955, this closure caused Yeaw to turn her attention to an area along the American River, known as Deterding Woods, where she began to lead her students on nature tours.
In a creative fashion, Yeaw presented tales of animals with human names and various facts about these creatures of the wild and their environment to children of various ages.
Carmichael resident Sylvia Bringas fondly remembers participating in one of Yeaw’s tours at Deterding Woods, which would later become the site of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center.
“Those of us who got to meet (Yeaw) were very lucky,” said Bringas, who attended the local Marvin Marshall, Deterding and Carmichael elementary schools at separate times during the 1950s. “She was a teacher at heart trying to impart to us an appreciation of nature and the animals around us. She would take time to explain about each animal and then have us touch each one. I think she really was looking to the future and the preservation of what was around her. You felt her excitement and it made you want to pay attention to what she had to say. As you know we can be very antsy at eight years old. It takes a special person to keep the interest of children. I feel honored to have known her.”
Louis Heinrich, Jr., a member of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center’s associate board of directors, said that he participated in Yeaw’s tours from 1960 to 1965.
“I really remember Effie Yeaw as just this really kind person,” said Heinrich, Jr., who attended Marvin Marshall School at 5309 Kenneth Ave. in Carmichael. “(Yeaw’s tours) sparked an interest in the natural world that is outside your back door. A lot of people go to national parks and state parks to experience nature, but it’s right here (in Carmichael). That’s one of the things that Effie Yeaw helped develop in me as a young person is just look around and you’ll see (nature) everywhere. We are surrounded by it.”
Louis Heinrich, Jr.’s father, Louis Heinrich, Sr., a former biology teacher at Grant Technical College and later at American River College, which opened in 1955, said that he organized the Deterding Woods tours with Yeaw and another local resident, Mike Weber.
The eldest Heinrich said that in addition to these tours, Yeaw had a dream of having a nature center located in Deterding Woods.
“Another reason why we had these field trips into the Deterding Woods was that (Yeaw) was hoping that the Carmichael School District would obtain some kind of a concession there that they could have it as a nature center,” Heinrich, Sr. said. “She was already planning a nature center in that area.”
Although Yeaw, who passed away at the age of 69 in 1970, never saw her dream of having a nature center at the Deterding Woods site become a reality, her legacy remains strong through both the name and mission of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center and the people in the community who she influenced through her love of nature.
For more information regarding the Effie Yeaw Nature Center and its activities, including possible 35th anniversary-related events, call (916) 489-4918 or visit www.sacnaturecenter.net.