Large woody debris provides a buffer to the backshore at Keystone Spit. Photo: Pedersen
Volunteer of the Year

Volunteer of the Year

Connie Clark - 2017 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Carrying out nearshore research and data collection is messy business. Citizen volunteers who do this on the beaches of Whidbey and Camano islands joke about boots in the mud, but the woman they honored Saturday is known for something else.

“She keeps her butt in the chair,” said Jill Hein, one of many who nominated Connie Clark to become the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year.

The award is presented to one individual a year by the Island County Marine Resources Committee, Washington State University Extension and Sound Water Stewards.

Its title is a mouthful, but the honor is huge. Before her death in 2011, Jan Holmes was a passionate advocate of citizen research as a marine biologist and tireless volunteer. She served as a member of the Marine Resources Committee as well as the WSU Beach Watchers. She and her colleagues in the Beach Watchers program championed the study of eelgrass, shoreline life, forage fish and juvenile salmon that rely on the county’s shoreline.

Clark is the creative genius whose web design and data systems make it possible for these volunteers today to record what they find, and for the public to easily register for events such as the huge one they attended Saturday at South Whidbey High School, Sound Waters University. It means long hours for Clark in meetings, brainstorming with others, and then sitting down to the real work, alone, at her computer.

 “So much of her work is in the background,” Hein said. “Many people don’t notice.”

Jim Somers was a WSU Beach Watcher in 2007 when Connie and her husband, Neal, applied for membership.

“This was at a time when the organization was in near crisis due to our archaic method of recording volunteer hours, developing an online newsletter and running registration for our programs,” he said. “Little did we know what a treasure Connie would be. She stated she had database and website experience and we thought she would fit in.”

Clark is the seventh county resident honored since 2011, when the Marine Resources Committee and Island County Beach Watchers within WSU Extension created the Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year award. Today, Sound Water Stewards, the nonprofit successor to Beach Watchers, also sponsors the award.

Holmes set the bar high for coastal volunteers. Jan joined the young Beach Watchers program in 1990 and, within a few years, earned her master’s degree in marine biology.

“It was just amazing what Jan did,” said Don Meehan, former director of Island County WSU Extension. “She led the effort in shoreline intertidal monitoring. We know more about our Island County shoreline than probably any other county in all of Puget Sound. She cranked up the eelgrass monitoring team, a very technical group. She loved teaching and loved helping others. She accomplished a great deal.”

About Clark, Meehan said, “She is just outrageously spectacular and helpful.”

In addition to Clark’s work for Beach Watchers and now Sound Water Stewards, she has developed online tools and solutions for the Whidbey ECOnet website and calendar, Pigeon Guillemot electronic survey, Snohomish Beach Watchers Sound Living registration, Island County Master Gardener registration, and Whidbey Watershed Stewards website, providing education and outreach information.

Linda Ade Ridder, board president of Sound Water Stewards, said Clark transformed Sound Waters University.

“She first put our catalog online so we didn’t have to mail a 16-page booklet to several thousand people every year. She then created ways to contact presenters and exhibitors online, so that all actions can be tracked by all team members efficiently and with an historical record.”

Clark joins six others who have also earned the annual coastal volunteer honor: Barbara Brock, Sammye Kempbell, Bob Gentz, Phyllis Kind, Jill Hein and Ken Urstad.

Originally published in South Whidbey Record – Feb 8 2017.


ABOUT THE JAN HOLMES ISLAND COUNTY COASTAL VOLUNTEER OF THE YEAR AWARD

The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is named to honor the memory of Jan Holmes, an Island County resident and WSU Island County Beach Watcher who was an exemplary marine scientist, educator and champion for stewardship of the marine environment.

In recognition of the continuing need for volunteers to carry on this important cause, the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to one individual engaged in service, science or outreach relating to the health of Island County’s marine environment and whose work adds to knowledge about and/or protection of county marine waters and coastal resources.

Nominations are open to anyone, regardless of organization or affiliation. The intent of the award is to encourage and recognize the achievements of volunteers who work to understand, protect and restore the marine waters and coastal resources of Island County.

The award is co-sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC) and Washington State University (WSU) Island County Extension. A committee representing the two sponsoring organizations selects one winner. The award is presented during the opening ceremonies of Sound Waters, an annual one-day university held on the first Saturday in February.


AWARD RENAMED IN 2012 IN HONOR OF JAN HOLMES

Every year, hundreds of volunteers contribute thousands of hours of service, science and outreach in support of Island County's marine environment. They do so as members of various organizations and, in some cases, as citizens unaffiliated with any group. In September 2010, the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers partnered to establish an award to recognize this contribution of volunteer service and leadership. They created the annual Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award, open to any citizen of Island County regardless of affiliation.

To identify the winner, a joint committee of the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers review nominations submitted by the public. One individual is chosen and the award is presented in February before an audience of some 600 people attending the annual Sound Waters University.

No one better embodied the spirit of such service in Island County than Jan Holmes, a long-time WSU Beach Watcher and early member of the MRC. Her death in December of 2011 was a great loss to members, friends and volunteers in both organizations. In recognition of her leadership, the MRC voted unanimously in January 2012 to rename the award in her honor, The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year.

Holmes and her husband, Steve, moved to Whidbey Island after completing careers in the airline industry. In 1990, Holmes received training as a WSU Beach Watcher. She found such joy and wonder in the nearshore environment that she went back to school at Western Washington University and obtained a degree in marine science. She became a leader in the Beach Watcher organization, inspiring fellow volunteers, adults and children with her infectious enthusiasm as a teacher and mentor.

As a scientist Holmes set high standards, developing rigorous protocols for the Beach Watchers intertidal monitoring program and later creating an innovative eelgrass research project that has revolutionized the gathering of eelgrass data by citizen volunteers at a fraction of the traditional cost. She collaborated closely with the MRC while attracting talented volunteers to the project.

In 2010, Holmes was honored for her community service with the prestigious Cox Conserves Heroes Award for Western Washington, in competition with volunteers from other areas of the state. The award is given by KIRO TV and The Trust for Public Land.

Bob Gentz: 2016
Ken Urstad: 2015
Jill Hein: 2014
Phyllis Kind: 2013
Sammye Kempbell: 2012
Barbara Brock: 2011
Volunteer of the Year