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

Volunteer of the Year

Craig and Joy Johnson - 2019 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Craig and Joy Johnson accept award. Credit: Joseph Sheldon

It’s all about teamwork - and Craig and Joy Johnson work as a team! 

Craig is a multitalented watercolor/oil/graphic artist and photographer and Joy is an educator and writer, combining their talents and skills in ways that are engaging and informative for audiences of all descriptions.  

The Jan Holmes Island County Volunteer of the Year Award was announced on Saturday to 600+ attendees, at the annual Sound Waters University, held at South Whidbey High School. The Johnsons were in attendance to accept the Award amidst a very enthusiastic and cheering audience!

The Johnsons speak of the complexities of Puget Sound’s ecosystems, migrations, weather and habitats through the lens of the region’s birdlife and wildlife, and relate their information to mindful human care of terrestrial, shoreline, fresh and marine water habits. They have co-authored many books, brochures, produced DVDs, maintain websites and blogs, created and donated interpretive signage at Swan Lake, Greenbank Farm and other sites, plus offered free educational video content on their website, such as “Puget Sound Area Seabird ID”, “Avoiding Window Strikes” and more. The Johnsons provide all their educational brochures, books and videos free to schools or organizations with educational outreach programs.

Craig and Joy have donated innumerable hours of their valuable artistic and writing skills in support of many Island County organizations including Whidbey Audubon Society, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Friends of South Whidbey State Park, Swan Lake Watershed Preservation Group, Pacific Rim Institute, WSU Extension and Sound Water Stewards.

The Johnsons donate their support as health allows, as a labor of love for birds and wildlife.  Their focus is on education and inspiration - promoting healthy waters and habitat amongst school children and adults, with many responses from people saying they are going to develop their land with more sensitivity to nature afterward, understanding Craig’s mantra that “all things are connected”. 

In Dan Pedersen’s words - “I have never met anyone with their drive to make such a difference. Within a moment of meeting the Johnsons, they realize these people are “the real deal”. They walk the talk!”

Since Craig became disabled by a degenerative neurological disease years ago, he has spent many sleepless nights dreaming up ways to express his passion for birds and wildlife, hoping to inspire others to preserve habitat, whether it be through a wildlife reserve or in their own backyards. With Joy by his side, he continues to push through some very difficult physical challenges, using limited energy to convey the marvels of Creation.

The Johnsons join eight others who have also earned the annual coastal volunteer honor – Barbara Brock, Sammye Kempbell, Phyllis Kind, Jill Hein, Ken Urstad, Bob Gentz, Connie Clark and Sandy Dubpernell.


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 sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), Sound Water Stewards (SWS), and Washington State University (WSU) Island County Extension. A committee representing the three 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.


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.

Sandy Dubpernell: 2018
Connie Clark: 2017
Bob Gentz: 2016
Ken Urstad: 2015
Jill Hein: 2014
Phyllis Kind: 2013
Sammye Kempbell: 2012
Barbara Brock: 2011
Volunteer of the Year