by Antonio Sanchez
"She's from Texas too!" That was one of my first thoughts as I was sitting down with Georgeann Andrus, getting to spend a few hours interviewing a living legend in the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park movement. Georgeann has spent over twenty years involved in the movement that helped to create the Claremont Hills Wilderness Park, and all I could think of sitting there was… She's from Texas too!
Of course she is, and I just had to laugh at how small and funny and amazing the mundo is sometimes.
Georgeann is leaving the board of the Claremont Wildlands Conservancy, on which she has served in various ways since 2002. As the Board's newest member, I got to spend some time talking with Georgeann, exploring her past and the history of the wilderness conservation movement here in Claremont. Here are a few notes from our conversation.
So there we were in downtown Claremont talking over drinks, just two kids from Texas--Georgeann from Port Arthur (ninety minutes from Houston) and myself from El Paso (90 minutes from nowhere). Funny that we both ended up in California, helping to preserve local open space. We got to talk about how Georgeann grew up near the beach in Southeast Texas, watching birds on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico, and just a quick hour from the famous Piney Woods, now also a focus of conservation efforts. Turns out Georgeann has always loved interacting with nature, with one of her first memories of hiking going back to summer camps in Texas.
Georgeann later went to college in Austin. She shared with me that she graduated from UT-Austin back in 1953. We talked about the dark side of the University of Texas system back then. When she graduated that year, black students were still not admitted to undergraduate programs. Just a few hard-fought decades later, we have a black man as our President. I get the sense that if I had known Georgeann back in 2008, when my Mexican-American grandma and I were in Oxnard, sitting on our couch, watching Barack Obama be named our next president, she would have been holding hands with us, with a few tears in our eyes because it was a historical night. That was a good night.
Our conversation then took us to her joining the local hillside conservation movement and all the hard work, long hours, and accomplishments of the past few decades. Apart from all the great stories and experiences, one thing stuck out about our conversation. Georgeann was continuously mentioning others and the work they have done and what others have helped accomplish, definitely trying to keep herself or her accomplishments out of the spotlight. She could easily have spent a long time emphasizing that she was an original member of the Claremont Hills Conservation Corporation, a group that monitored the original 1,200 acre Wilderness Park, given to the City through an arrangement with Pomona College.
When I asked her to name one famous person she would like to have on the CWC Board, she immediately (I'm talking within a second) named Marilee Scaff, emphasizing the respect she has for Marilee and the respect that her name carries. Georgeann could have mentioned someone with more fame and power, like President Obama or Secretary Clinton, but she understands the importance of the local for an organization like ours, and she respects folks who have put in years and years of work. Maybe most importantly, she knows what would benefit our own organization.
When I asked her to name one historical figure she would like to have on the board, again she answered without a pause. She named Judy Wright, and went on to explain Judy's involvement in the past with transfer credits, bond measures, and the Santa Fe building. I could tell by the quickness with which she answered and the detail she went into that she had the highest respect for Judy and the good work she did in her lifetime. Again, she could have named President Lincoln or another famous person, but Georgeann knows our organization and its mission--not to mention Claremont's history--so intimately that within a second she knew exactly whom she'd have had join the board. That type of intimate knowledge will be sorely missed.
My last question for Georgeann was what she thought she had brought to the board over the years that was unique. Her answer was her experience with the subject and her historical knowledge of the movement. Again, she deflected attention from herself, and highlighted other folks who have contributed along the way.
After nearly two hours of conversation, I came away thinking this: Our board will dearly miss Georgeann's remarkable knowledge of the Claremont hillsides and their history. But I think we will also be missing her as a unique leader. When someone is willing to put in decades of work, helping accomplish a goal that benefits the entire community, and then can immediately deflect and give credit to others, that sort of selflessness is amazing. That is a form of leadership that I respect tremendously.
From the conversation we had, it sounds like Georgeann has been doing that not only with the Wilderness Park but also with her family and friends for her entire life. I have no doubt that she has been an amazing professor, wife, mother, and community member for decades, as she has been amazing for our board and local wilderness conservation movement.
The CWC has been extremely fortunate to have someone with so much experience and historical knowledge of the Claremont Wilderness Park to guide it. Even though she will be just a phone call or e-mail away to join us at City Council meetings or other events, it definitely won't be the same without her.
My hope for the next generation of CWC board members is that we will be able to contribute even a fraction of what Georgeann has to the movement, and to do so in the same classy, selfless way that she has done over the years. Thank you for your service, Georgeann!
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